"Hungary? Really? Oh, that's interesting." This was the most frequent response when others asked what my vacation plans were.
So, why Hungary? Now that I've been back five days and have returned to the realities of work, I recognize that my trip to Hungary was a bit of an extravagance. When I made this comment to a physician colleague, who is a true world traveler, she expressed surprise. "Why? You have worked hard for this."
A few years ago I traveled to Bulgaria for a birding trip organized by the Friends of the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (FriendsofBSPB). That trip was great and is documented in detail on this blog. I recall that we found 180 plus species and nearly all, but not quite all since I had been to England the year before, life birds.
2014 was a combination year for the FriendsofBSPB's annual trip; that is, combined birding in Hungary and Bulgaria. When, at the beginning of the year, I checked with Yoav Chudnuff, Director of FriendsofBSPB, about interest in the trip, no one had yet signed up. This remained true into early March and so I asked about going on only the Hungary portion of the trip. He checked with Gerard Gorman, the bird guide for Hungary, and Gerard agreed to do the trip - with me as the single participant. Gulp! This was new territory for me.
White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) on nest. A daily, even hourly, sight in Hungary.
Corn Bunting (Embezira calandra) song heard daily, even hourly, in Hungary.
Corn Bunting not singing - a slightly less frequent sighting.
A typical landscape in the grasslands of Hungary.
Hungarian-style goulash - broth-style with vegetables and beef. The goulash above was the best I tasted on the trip.
Another typical landscape - this from an area southeast of Budapest.
Prior to birding in Hungary, I had seen only three Eurasian Tree Sparrows (Passer montanus) in total. One in St. Louis, one in Suffolk County, England and one in Bulgaria. In Hungary this cute little bird was a daily sighting. Of course, Passer montanus was frequently accompanied by its infamous cousin Passer domesticus.
Poppys were at the peak of their bloom.
My present position working with adults who have acute leukemia was opened up when the individual in this role for the previous forty years decided to retire. She gave me a solid foundation on which to build the role as I currently practice. She came to the United States from Hungary as a nine year old and speaks fluid Hungarian and makes frequent visits to Budapest where she still has family. She expressed enormous pride in her Hungarian roots and told amazing stories about Hungary. In my daily work I also frequently come upon a nephrologist from Hungary who happens to have a name that is so difficult to pronounce. Occasionally we ride the elevator together and on one of these elevator trips he taught me how to say his name correctly. I had it down perfectly when we stepped off on the 5th floor. We parted to go to our separate offices and someone distracted me with a question or comment. In that split second, I forgot all that I learned to pronounce his name.
I digress. When I expressed disappointment to Yoav that no one had signed up for the 2014 combined trip he agreed, but also commented that Americans traveling to Europe for birding was down everywhere. Perhaps this is because Europe now seems quite expensive for Americans. By contrast, it's much more affordable, even a bargain, for Europeans to travel west. For example, we encountered many birders from Europe on our Costa Rica trip, especially in the highlands. Certainly other countries offer, dollar for dollar, more life birds. It's understandable that precious birding travel dollars would be directed elsewhere.
I would encourage any birder interested in birding in Europe to consider the Friends of BSPB annual trip. It's excellent and, once past the cost of the flight, very affordable.
In the foreground, Hungarian Grey Cow
So, my trip to Hungary would not yield many life birds, but they would all be great life birds. And, as above, I come by my interest in Hungary honestly. If interested, read on for more.