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'The Birds and the Bees' of the Hungarian Great Plains

Life on the Hungarian Great Plains (Alfold) is primarily supported by its main river, the Tisza. The river's surroundings form a suitable habitat for rare local species.

Softwood groves along the Tisza banks remind us of good old solid forests, where grapevine runs up and around the tree trunk, thick vegetation persists on clearings, and swampland spots the area. This habitat is ideal for animal species that prefer to hide and stay in reserve:

foto:merlot02
  • Leaf bugs dominate the upper (tree crown) and middle (bush) level of the forest. These include the sawfly, and a wide choice of beautiful butterflies.
  • Willow groves on the lower part of the Tisza hide the Hungarian color-changing butterfly (Apatura m. metis). Apart from this small corner of the country, this protected butterfly-race can only be found in Eastern Asia.
  • Above the groves, graceful birds spot the sky. Most dominant is the Blue Heron (Ardea cinerea), but other heron-species also abound.
  • Birds of prey, laying nest in thicker forests, include unique Hawks, which are awesome to observe.
  • The Chickadee (Remiz pendulinus) mounts its round nest on waterside willows.
Photo: merlot02

The riverbank hardwood groves, sadly waning with the passing years, serve as habitat for species, which do not occur in other parts of the plains:
  • Their undergrowth hides the shiny door snail with ribbed shell (Laciniaria plicata),
  • The pulmonate land snail (Bradybaena fruticum), and
  • Many other, rare snail genuses.
  • Peculiarities include the rare (and protected!) small Apollo butterfly (Parnassius mnemosyne), and
  • The southern festoon (Zerynthia polyxena), the caterpillar of which develops on the poisonous Dutchman's pipe only.
  • Unique groups of the groves' bird fauna include the Gray-headed Woodpecker  (Picus canus) and
  • The Stock Pigeon (Columba oenas), both nesting in the cavity of tree trunks.
Primeval waters formed the most characteristic area of the Great Plains. Hortobagy, the nature reserve, contains various habitats. Scanty vegetation on the lick moorland attracts
  • grasshoppers and
  • locusts, which do well in the desert-like environment.
The marshland is not only home to various local birds, but it also serves as an important landing place, where migrating birds can rest for a while. When springtime warms the air, seaweed covers standing water surfaces, providing an excellent base for nest building:
  • The Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps griseigena) nests on nenuphar leaves, surrounded by open water surface.
  • The Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus) lives in colonies with the family of terns, and the black-necked grebe. The gulls make a huge noise with their loud cries and bellicose behavior, so predacious games do not venture to get close.
  • Other birds, such as the Black Tern (Childonias nigra) and the Whiskered Tern (Childonias hybrida) like to take advantage of this, and build their nests close to them. 
  • The Greylag Goose (Anser anser),
  • The Great Egret (Casmerodius albus), and
  • The Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea) nest in rank reed, along with
  • The Great Bittern (Botaurus stellaris), which fades into its surroundings, but makes a resounding cry. The attentive visitor, however, can hear singing as well, mixed in with other sounds.
  • The prettiest singing-bird of the reed is the Bearded Tit (Panurus biarmicus).
  • Also pretty, but not a singing-bird, is the Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus), hunter of the meadows and the swampland.
  • The Aquatic Warbler (Acrocephalus paldicola) is diminishing in Europe, but occurs here in ever-greater numbers. 
  • During the spring and the fall migration period, the Wild Goose V-shapes ornament the sky, as they fly by thousands above the area.

Photo:lexo  

Lick moorland oak meadows in Hortobagy are less known to visitors, although their fauna presents a great variety of species. These areas used to be covered by the flooding river quite often.
  • Unique to the area is the Hungarian dysderid spider (Dysdera hungarica).
  • Various breed of beetles (Trichoferus pallidus, for example) reside in the old oak trees, as their larvae feed on dead standing trunks or thick branches.
  • The gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) resides in abundance at some parts of the Ohati forest, devastating the shroud.
  • A Hungarian movie featured this area as “the forest of the Red-footed Falcon”, but this beautiful bird race is diminishing since the desolation of crow settlements.
  • Nevertheless, the contemplative bystander may observe the flight of Falcons, Merlins, Buzzards, and - on winter days - visiting White-tailed Eagles.
  • Resident mammals include the beech marten, the Eurasian badger, and the tiny harvest mouse.
The fauna of the Koros region greatly resembles that of the Hortobagy, although the close proximity of mountains forms a unique microclimate. Common oak and common ash trees dominate the forests.  Snails abound, in terms of number, as well as in terms of genus variety. Most birds in the area reside in tree rots:
  • The Green- and the Grey-headed Woodpecker (Picus viridis, Picus canus),
  • The Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) and
  • The Wryneck (Jynx torquilla).
Last but not least, unique habitats are found on the loess plains of Nagykunsag and Hajdusag:
  • The ground level is crowded with grasshoppers, accompanied by the cicada and various moth types.
  • Singing-birds please the ear. The Skylark, and the Corn Bunting mix with
  • Races that nest on the ground, such as the Quail and the Partridge.
  • The loess is a preferred nesting place for the Great Bustard (Otis tarda).
  • Typical rodent species include the hamster and the European ground squirrel (Spermophilus citellus).
  • Hungarian mole rats once abounded in the area, but they are pretty rare today.
We couldn't possibly list the whole wealth of the region, but we hope that the above has convinced you that the Hungarian Great Plains are a bird watcher's paradise. Come and see for yourself; we're waiting for you.

foto: Szilus
Photo: szilus