Sunday, June 15, 2014

Saker Falcon

We stayed at the hotel below, Kunsagi Major, actually a beautiful horse ranch, on our first night in Hungary  As it turned out this would be my favorite place to stay.  The location was quiet, calm and beautiful and suited me well after a harrowing past four months at work.    The nights were cool to  chilly and I opened the window in my room.  Glorious for sleeping.  We stayed here for two nights and I was actually able to leave work and remember that I was on vacation in a spectacular country. The first night I heard the Little Owl and Chaffinch song woke me early.  

The little stallion pony below was doing his best imitation of California Chrome.  There were a lot of beautiful riding horses grazing in the fields and on our first night there was a riding group from Scandinavia also staying.

Both mornings we walked around the expansive, birdy grounds to see many birds.  My favorite here was a Hoopoe (Upupa epos) that briefly raised its crest while perched on a fence post; alas, too quick and too distant for a photo.

On my first full day in Hungary, Gerard knew where there was a Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug) nest box on a huge utility tower along a road near the village of Tass, approximately 65 kms directly south of Budapest.  This location was not that far from where we saw the Great Bustards the day before. 

My photos, horrible for sure, are for me to remember the experience and location of seeing this bird.  As always, terrific images can be found on-line.

The nest box was on the utility tower just visible in the lower right of the photo above and held two chicks.  Saker Falcon is a threatened species and it is helped with monitored nesting sites in suitable habitat. Again, we looked at these birds through the spotting scope and watched the chicks, one of which appeared ready to fledge, hopping around in their nest box and the parents perched and flying nearby. 

Gerard pointed out that Saker Falcon is reminiscent of Prairie Falcon a bird I've only seen twice out west.  True, but larger.  It is also a bird that is bred in captivity for falconry, as well as having wild nests raided for chicks.  Please do read the first paragraph of this birdlife saker falcon link.  Additionally, the first three pages of a Google search all referenced links about purchasing a bird.

Two or three days later we stopped at another location to see Saker Falcon again.  At the second location the bird was much closer.  I should have tried for a photo of the second bird but, as I will explain in a future blog post, I didn't think to do this at the time.  

About a month prior to the trip I ran into Karl Overman at Belle Isle and I mentioned my upcoming trip to Hungary.  His reply, "oh, I like that."  He asked which were my target birds.  I said Great Bustard and Black Woodpecker.  "Those are both good birds, but you also need to add Saker Falcon.  Saker is difficult to find anywhere else, but in Hungary it's a gimme bird." 

Svensson's Birds of Europe, p. 122, 2nd edition, lists Saker Falcon as having V*** (three-star rarity) status.  In Hungary, Karl's description may be more accurate.  Ornithologists have set up nest boxes in suitable habitat and, as noted, these nest boxes are successfully used. At our second Saker sighting, a man was climbing the tower to the nest box to ring the chicks.  The thing is, you need to be in Hungary at the right time of year and have a guide who knows where there is an active nest box.     

Saker Falcon is the image on the Hungarian 50 forint coin.  I brought a few of these home with me, one to give to Karl, especially.  Second life bird of the trip.

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