Wednesday 12 June 2019

A forest owl in Hungary

Last week I traveled for a brief trip to Nógrád County, North of Hungary in search of the Ural Owl (Strix uralensis), a larger relative of the Tawny Owl (Strix aluco) which we commonly hear in the UK.

We were in upland Beech forest, mixed with Oak, Ash and some Larch, which is managed sensitively for timber. After rain showers the previous night, there was a lot of low cloud and the vegetation was still dripping wet.

Forest groundflora; Woodruff (Galium odoratum
and Sanicle (Sanicula europaea) both in flower

Our guide brought us to an area of more open forest, with mature trees surrounded by a misty backdrop. All was quiet except for the 'rain calls' of numerous Chaffinches.

We were alerted by the gentle alarm call of a Robin; David spotted a dark silhouette which took off, gliding silently away but accompanied by the strident calls of Song Thrush and Chaffinch.

Things settled down and the forest became quiet once more. A White-backed Woodpecker drummed in the distance, with a characteristic speeding up at the end, like a dropped ball bearing.

Our slightly surly guide Adam began to loosen up, perhaps getting more comfortable speaking English (our Hungarian unfortunately being non-existent). We asked him about the carnivorous mammals in the area: European Wildcat, Eurasian Lynx, European Grey Wolf? He explained that the numbers for these species are very low in the area and DNA samples are collected by anyone who comes across the....

Guide: 'Erm, how is it called...?'
David: 'Faeces?'
Guide's deadpan response: 'Sh*t, yes.'

In an interlude between looking for owls, Adam introduced to us some of the rare plants which makes this a specially protected area of forest.

Sword-leaved Helleborine (Cephalanthera longifolia), 

 Lesser butterfly-orchid (Platanthera bifolia)

Violet Bird's-nest Orchid (Limodorum abortivum)

An hour or so later, the sun had begun to burn off the low cloud. We walked back to where we started, hearing Robin's alarm call again with a Coal Tit joining in. The female Ural Owl is a dark outline, perched down low in the same tree. A smaller Ural Owl (a male) sits further back at the edge of a clearing, seemingly more nervous. Adam tells us the male and female will mostly hunt in separate territories, coming back together to tend the chicks.

The owls were a little too far off to photograph, so we decided to call it a day and returned to the vehicle. As we watched the forest pass us by out of the window, David again spotted something in a clearing through the trees...

Ural Owl (Strix uralensis) adult female © David Plummer

Preening © David Plummer

For more of David's wildlife images, follow his Instagram feed:

No comments :

Post a Comment