Posted by: tim ellis | September 11, 2019

Hungary – Wednesday 11th September 2019

The hotel breakfast was similar to that in the previous hotels, but not quite as good, and the dining area was smaller and more crowded.

My plan for today was to take the bus trip again, but this time taking the time to get off and visit some of the places I’d only driven past yesterday.

Liberty Statue//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

I walked around the Citadel to see the statues, the took the bus down the hill and got off at the next stop and walked along the banks of the Danube to the chain bridge, where I re-joined the bus as far as the Basilica. It was now lunch time, so I found a nearby bar which advertised a “Giant Pork Schnitzel” – they apologised that they hadn’t been able to get them, but substituted two regular schnitzel. They also did a home-made lemonade, which was freshly prepared and contained orange and lime in addition to the lemons.

Széchenyi Chain Bridge//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

After lunch I went into the Basilica, and saw the reliquary containing St Steven’s right arm. Then by bus again to an area near the Jewish synagogue and holocaust memorial. It was impossible to get a good photo as a trolley bus had broken down right in front of the spot you needed to stand to get a clear view. Looked In a few souvenir shops hoping to find a t-shirt I had seen, but not purchased, by the citadel, without success, so took the bus back to the hotel (pausing only to call in at the Ice Cream shop between the bus stop and the hotel). Did some packing before heading out for dinner at a sports bar I had passed on the way to the Huszar yesterday, as my pick up for the airport is at 03:10 tomorrow morning.

Holocaust Tree Of Life Memorial//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Posted by: tim ellis | September 10, 2019

Hungary – Tuesday 10th September 2019

7:00 Breakfast and 7:30 departure to get back to Budapest Airport – The rest of the group are returning to Heathrow via Helsinki due to a BA Strike, whilst I am being picked up at 10:00 for a transfer to a hotel in Budapest. We arrive In plenty of time, so I have a coffee until just before ten, then go to look for my driver. I spot a courier with my name on her board almost immediately, but the driver does not arrive until 10:45 – I hope they are more efficient when they come to collect me on Thursday morning!

Széchenyi Chain Bridge//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

The Hotel is close to the railway station, and check in is not until 3:00, but I can leave my bags there and go to explore. There are a number of “hop on/hop off” bus tours with 24 and 48 hour tickets which the hotel sells, so I take a “Giraffe Tours” ticket and head off to do the complete loop in order to orientate myself. It is about 2:30 when we get back to my starting point, so I stay on for another couple of stops to get to some “Souvenir” shops and pick up a couple of postcards and some presents for my nieces, then walk back to the hotel via the post office to get stamps.

Heroes Square//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

After checking in and writing the cards I set out again for Heroes Square, as it looked interesting but was hard to photograph from the bus. Then walked back to find dinner. We had passed a restaurant called Huszar in the taxi, shortly before arriving at the hotel, and it was one of their recommended local restaurants, so I decided to give it a try. They had an extensive menu (with translations in English and German), live music (guitar and violin) and even a dark beer, so an excellent choice!

Posted by: tim ellis | September 9, 2019

Hungary – Monday 9th September 2019

Sandor has set up the Mammal traps in the grounds of the hotel, and we meet up at 7:45 to check them. However a terrific thunderstorm in the night resulted in the wood swelling, rendering the traps inoperable, so when we arrive he has already collected them. We set off for a short walk anyway, but thunder is rumbling around, then lightning flashes close by and it starts to rain, so we head back for breakfast.

Pylons//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

The shower is short, but the forecast is not good. We are supposed to be going on a boat trip, but decide to play it by ear. Our first stop is back to the lake we visited yesterday afternoon, where the light is much better and we find a roosting pond bat , then some nearby pylons where nesting platforms for Saker Falcons have been installed. This has clearly been a successful initiative as we see several, including one flying directly overhead.

Night Heron//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

The weather is holding up, so we go to the boat lake, where Sandor switches from driver to pilot, and takes us out in a small boat, where we see kingfisher, pygmy cormorant and night heron amongst other birds. Just as we are returning to the dock, it starts to rain, so there is a mad scramble for waterproofs, but, just like the other day, it is not heavy, so we return for lunch on the shore, followed by Ice Creams.

We then drive out onto the Great Plains, where we see red footed falcon and a family of common crane, before the threatened storm finally breaks, making the drive back very wet!

Common Crane//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Posted by: tim ellis | September 8, 2019

Hungary – Sunday 8th September 2019

The Nomad does not provide a packed lunch, instead we get to make up our own sandwiches from the extensive breakfast bar.

Eger Minaret//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

We drive into Eger to check for bats under a flyover bridge. We find a few including one which has fallen to the ground. Sandor transports him to a nearby tree where hopefully he will be able to recover without becoming a victim to a passing dog or cat. We proceed to the historic part of town, which includes the Northernmost Ottoman minaret, some old Turkish baths, and an impressive cathedral (as well as some sort of car rally in the town square).

Our next stop is the Bolyki winery, where we get taste several of their award winning red wines – all this before lunch (which we eat here, before leaving).

Hungarian Grey Cattle//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

After lunch we visit a wood and pasture (complete with Hungarian Grey Cattle) and a lake for wildlife spotting opportunities.

After dinner it is back to the wooded pool we visited last night, but now without the rain, for another try at mist netting. There appear to be fewer bats around than previously, and we only end up actually catching two, but the last one we catch is the largest species we have seen on the trip – a Greater Mouse Eared Bat.

Greater Mouse Eared Bat//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Posted by: tim ellis | September 7, 2019

Hungary – Saturday 7th September 2019

No pre-breakfast walk this morning as we need to pack ready for our onward journey. The weather forecast is for rain, so our activities are planned to avoid getting too wet!

Flowstone Columns - Baradla Cave//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

We start with a walk through (part of) an impressive cave system with many interesting stalactite and stalagmite formations, and a chamber that can be used as a concert hall. From there we continue on to visit the world’s largest book. There are no photos allowed here, apparently due to copyright disputes, but as the pages are 16m2, and the book largely fills the room, you’d need a very wide angle lens anyway! On the same site is a replica of Guttenberg’s original printing press and type blocks, and a water wheel powered paper mill. Sandor had hoped we could have our lunch break in the grounds here, but the proprietor had a hospital appointment and needed to close up, so instead we went to the Ice Cream store we had visited a couple of days ago, where there is a small garden. Just as we finish eating there are a few spots of rain. It is enough to make us hurry to pack up, but we then buy ice creams, and the rain has stopped by the time we get back into the minibus.

Water Wheel//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

We have more rain, some fairly heavy before arriving at our destination, where there is just light drizzle. After dinner, Sandor proposes a short drive and possible mist netting, depending on conditions. The site is a wooded pool beside the road, and we aren’t sure if it is still drizzling, or just water dripping off the trees. We can see several bats flying over the pool, so Sandor decides to try setting up the nets, but without any success – The rain on the nets makes them much more obvious to the bats’ sonar, allowing them to avoid being caught.

Posted by: tim ellis | September 6, 2019

Hungary – Friday 6th September 2019

Our pre-breakfast walk takes us behind the hotel in the opposite direction this morning. It is a cloudy start to the day and everything seems quieter, although we do see a Red Squirrel. It is quite a dark colour, high up and moving quickly from tree to tree, making it impossible to get a photo. We continue through a Jewish cemetery, before returning past the old mill pond we visited the first morning.

Bird Watching or Star Gazing?//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Our first port of call is another tourist hostel to check on two bat boxes. One is empty, while the other has just a couple of pipistrelle bats. We take a short walk to see some horses and to see if we can see some “captive” wild boar who live in a large enclosure, but we can’t, before continuing to an abandoned mine.

The mine was originally used for Iron Ore, and after that for limestone, and is at the foot of a large hill, containing a recently renovated “cave” roost for Mediterranean Horseshoe Bats. It is quite a climb up the hill to reach it, and we then continue further up to the top of the hill to search for small mammal fossils. (Successfully finding a few bits of bone and part of a jaw) before returning to the mine for lunch and then heading back to the hotel.

Tonight’s mist netting site is by a swarming cave and requires an off-road Land Rover journey to access, so we go (and return) in two groups. Sandor is hopeful that we will see lots of Bechstein’s Bats here, as they were very common on his last visit. However we seem to get a constant stream of Male Geoffroy’s Bats. (We speculate that it is the same individual who keeps returning, until we end up with two caught at the same time!).

Edible Dormouse//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

An edible dormouse puts in an appearance (although the mammal traps remain resolutely empty), and we finally manage to net a Bechstein’s just before Sandor takes the first group back to the hotel. As soon as they depart, the Bechstein’s turn up en masse – we sometimes have as many as 4 in the net at a time as Rhona rushes back and forth to release them – along with a Mediterranean Horseshoe and another Geoffroy’s (obviously late to the party), before Sandor returns and we dismantle the net and return to the hotel.

Bats//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Posted by: tim ellis | September 5, 2019

Hungary – Thursday 5th September 2019

The pre-breakfast walk this morning is through the beech forest up behind the hotel in the hope of finding one or more species of woodpecker. We find evidence of wild boar having foraged recently, but do not see any of them.

Roosting Bats//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Our first port of call after breakfast is a nature centre/youth hostel which has a large colony of bats in the roof, and a very nice garden, which we decide to return to for lunch, after we have checked some 45 Dormouse nest boxes scattered through some nearby woodland. Most are empty, a few have nests, or partial nests in, but no inhabitants. One holds an old food store that seems to have gone rotten, and one a family of four Hazel Dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius). The mother and one kit escape up the tree, and one kit remains tucked in the nest, but the fourth goes down to the ground and runs off. Sandor does not want to leave him abandoned, but he also wants to avoid handling him too much, so great fun ensues as we try to shepherd him back to the tree. He is transported part way on a branch, but leaps off it, and is eventually scooped up along with some leaf litter using a bag and returned to the nest box.

Hazel Dormouse (Juvenile)//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

We are very close to the Slovakian border at this point, so we wander over along a footpath – the area on the other side is part of a protected National Park.

On the way back to the hotel, we stop off to check out another roost in a church outbuilding – we don’t go in, but can see half a dozen bats through a hole in the door.

After dinner we go mist netting again, at a different site – in a Hungarian speaking village just inside Slovakia, again over a stream (which, it turns out, is slightly deeper in some spots than Sandor’s wellies are tall!). Barry has remembered his telescope, so we intersperse the bats (which include species we’ve not yet seen, like the Barbastelle) with counting Jupiter’s moons or looking at Saturn’s rings.

Western Barbastelle Bat//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Posted by: tim ellis | September 4, 2019

Hungary – Wednesday 4th September 2019

Fire Salamander//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

A 7:30 walk before an 8:30 breakfast. The walk is in the grounds of the hotel, past a Park Administration building to a man-made pool that used to power a water turbine during the war, then subsequently became a laundry, then a conservation workers house (Sando lived here for a while). We caught a brief glimpse of a Kingfisher, and a much longer view of a fire salamander (the symbol of the park).

Bats in the Belfry//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

After breakfast we head out to visit some churches which are home to roosting bat colonies. An abandoned protestant church, an orthodox church and a newer protestant church. All involve climbing through attics, and the volume of bat droppings point to the success of the colonies over time! We also go for a short walk up a viewpoint from where we can see into Slovakia, and Sandor becomes very attractive to a praying mantis.

Praying Mantis//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

We stop for an Ice Cream on the way back to the hotel for a slightly earlier dinner, to allow us to go out mist netting while it is still light enough to deploy the nets. It is a clear night with no light pollution so we also indulge in some amateur astronomy, spotting Jupiter, Saturn, Andromeda and a number of constellations. Barry promises to bring his telescope tomorrow if it is a clear night again.

Posted by: tim ellis | September 3, 2019

Hungary – Tuesday 3rd September 2019

Birmingham from above//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Although my flight with Wizzair was fine and problem free, their ground staff were a bit disorganised – Check in was announced at 4 desks, but none of them had any staff present! Then one turned up and someone else started moving the ribbons to control the queueing, although in a manner that suggested he was only barely familiar with the process. A second check-in attendant arrived, but couldn’t log in to the system – the ribbon dispenser went to help him and finally managed to get access after several minutes, by which time a third check-in attendant had arrived, as had the passengers for their next flight!

I was due to arrive in Budapest about 10-15 minutes before the main group, so went out into arrivals looking for a Naturetrek sign, which initially, I couldn’t find. I was just wondering how long to wait and carry on looking before I needed to start panicking when I spotted Sandor heading towards me with the sign. Cathy, who had travelled in from Vienna by train arrived almost immediately, and the rest of the group soon thereafter.

We head off by minibus for our destination in the Aggteleki National Park, stopping en-route for coffee and sandwiches and a brief introduction by Sandor and Barry. We pass through some quite heavy rain on the way, and have occasional stops to spot wildlife on the way.

Hotel Tengerszem//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

We arrive at the hotel just before dinner, but before that, Sandor introduces us to our first bat, a Geoffroys, which is roosting outside an adjacent building.

After dinner we go for a night drive, at the start of which Sandor sets some small mammal traps which we will check on our return. We see Red, Roe and Fallow Deer on the drive, but the traps remain empty.

Posted by: tim ellis | August 17, 2018

Amazon Cruise – Friday 17 August 2018

Visiting the Dessana<

After Coffee and Checklist updating this morning we arrive at the Dessana village. These native people originally lived much further up the river, but moved here a few decades ago. Although they now live close to Manaus they continue to live in a traditional manner (albeit with shows of their traditional music and dance for tourists!). Apparently their previous chief died last year, and has been replaced by his son, who is (relatively) youthful. The tribe show us a number of traditional dances using a variety of pipes and percussion instruments – some are performed by just the men, and some by the whole tribe. The last dance also includes tourists who are encouraged to join in!
After the dancing there is the opportunity to buy examples of their handicraft (bearing in mind we are already mostly packed…) before returning for Brunch and the final leg of our voyage.

Pied Tamarin

We depart the boat back at the dock where we started and climb up to the car park to await the bus, which isn’t there when we arrive. While we are waiting we spot movement in the branches overhead, and spot some small monkeys scampering through the branches. They are Pied Tamarin – an endangered species, partly because it has a very restricted range, living in and around Manaus. Annoyingly, having expected to only be taking photos of the Opera House, my long lens is securely packed, so I have to make do with a shorter lens.
The bus arrives, and takes us on a tour through the streets of Manaus to the Opera House, where we drop off Edson and try to get pictures through the windows that are not obscured by lampposts, then back to the airport. Checking in is a little confusing – I get separated from the others and told to join a different queue, which seems to be moving slowly with the family just in front of me taking an age to check in, but once I am through, it seems I had it easy compared to some of the others!

Manaus Opera House

At Sao Paulo, we manage to cause chaos when five of us decide to go in search of something to eat – the food outlets are a bit hidden away, but we find a bar which has a selection of meals and sandwiches which suit all tastes. They are very friendly and not too busy, but manage to not quite get the drinks order right. I had been looking at two different toasted sandwich options – One included cheese on the menu, and I was wondering if I could order it without, but decided to take the safer option of going for the other one – when it arrived, it included cheese! – Fortunately they were prepared to make me another one.
As always (or is it just me) we had forgotten to ask for separate bills – and when the bill did arrive it was wrong – we got a second bill, which was right, but then went and paid separately anyway – I bet they were glad to see the back of us!

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