Hungary - Day 1

I arrived in Hungary yesterday, with unfinished business from a very poor photography trip here two years ago. I realised after that experience that a trip organised by a professional photographer - particularly one who is more interested in his own photos than his clients - is not what I need. So this time I have come with an organisation, Sakertours, who can provide me with the opportunities for me to then use as I wish. Two years ago the weather was also against me with no snow and awful light, but it didn't matter about the light because we did not see one eagle all week.

I met up last night with Tom, from Northern Ireland, and Rino from Sorrento. An early start meant that the alarm was set for just before 5am (4am in UK), as we needed to be in the hides well before sunrise. Tom and Rino were heading to one hide and I was heading to another for a day on my own. A thirty minute journey took me to the hide in the middle of a farm in the Hortobagy Park region. The hide, which was sunk into the ground, was about 10 feet by 10 feet, with two panoramic windows (special glass for photography) facing North and West. This was to be my home for nearly 11 hours.

Shortly after 7am and about 20 minutes before sunrise, the peace was disturbed by the arrival of a large number of hooded crows, and shortly later they were joined by the even noisier Caspian Gulls. It was still very dark, but I used the opportunity to do a little bit of experimenting with different techniques. About 10am, they were joined by a buzzard who landed on the carrion (a fish), placed about 12 metres in front of the hide. The light was still poor, and not helped by shooting through the glass, which reduced the light levels further (about 1.3 stops). I had by this stage seen 4 White tailed eagles, but the nearest were about 70 metres away, and the furthest about 800. I had been hoping they would fly in, but then realised that if they did I would be disappointed because the light was so poor.

The afternoon proved to be a lot better. Around 2pm one of the eagles flew straight towards the hide, and landed about 10 metres away, and then shortly after it was joined by another one. I was able to get flight shots, shots of an eagle on a perch, shots of an eagle drinking in the small water hole by the hide, and shots of both of the eagles eating just 12 metres away, which is very close for a bird with a wing span of 240cms. I was also delighted that, although still not brilliant, the 40 minutes or so when they were in front of the hide and in the water was at the time of the best light of the day.

About 3.30pm everything went quiet, and all the birds seemed to have disappeared, although about 4pm a further 2 eagles flew past, heading to the woods for their roost. Then about 4.30pm a buzzard landed about 2 metres in front of me, before keeping me company, as it went totally dark, for about 20 minutes. Janos, who was driving me to and from the hide, arrived at about 5pm, to bring me back to Hotel Balmaz, in time for a shower, download of photos and recharging of camera batteries etc. before an excellent dinner.

Tom and Rino, unfortunately, did not have such a good day, with little eagle viewing, and what there was appears to have been at a distance and when the light was very poor. That is the nature of wildlife viewing and photography, but unlike 2 years ago, at least for me today has been worthwhile.

The weather for tomorrow looks bad, with rain and almost 100% cloud cover, but after today I won't find it too much of a problem to get up again at 5am, and who knows, we may be lucky.