Bee-eaters are horrible. Anybody not wanting to see Bee-eater photos should definitely not click here. Personally I don't like them, and it was a right pain to have been stuck in a small wooden shed about 15 feet from some perches that they frequented. Frankly, I felt like I was taking one for the team.
So, as you may have gathered, I'm in Hungary on a dedicated photography tour. I booked it on a whim many months ago, and as there was only one place left, I didn't know the other people on it. There are six of us in total, four Brits, and two Germans. I'm with the Germans - Nikon shooters with their filthy (lovely) 36mp D800s. Pah! The three Brits know each other already, so they go off an do their thing. The routine is pretty simple. Sakertours, the tour operators, have a network of photography hides in the Hortobagy National Park. They range from hides built into reedbeds, to towers specifically for Red-footed Falcons, to drinking pools with mirror-lie surfaces, to simple mobile sheds plonked in front of nest sites. The whole thing is a marvel; we meet downstairs for breakfast somewhere between five and six in the morning, and after a swift coffee, head off in two 4x4s for whatever the chosen hide for that session is - either just the morning with a switch and a rest at lunchtime, or for the whole day. Each hide is built with the sun in mind, so you have ones that are suitable only for the morning, some for the afternoon, and some that face two directions. The downside is that they're extremely hot and uncomfortable, but in this regard you pays yer money and you takes yer choice. I'd rather spend a few days sweating buckets and doing bizarre things with my legs to get these shots than go without, so I'm happy to just grin and bear it.
Some of the hides are extremely successful as there are constantly birds coming and going. Others are harder work, and there are many hours without much happening at all. In this respect it's like birding, and indeed I've brought my bins with me so that in those moments where the birds are more than 15 feet away, I simply start birding. And there's a stack to see and hear. My German companions are called Jan and Jurgen. Jan is also a birder, and so is completely in tune to all the calls and songs, whereas Jurgen is only a photographer, and so is unaware of the little snippets that keep coming our way. As with Bulgaria last year, the birding here is superb. The Hortobagy is stuffed - grasslands and meadows, reedbeds and fishponds, canals and woodlands - almost every type of habitat is present, and so the variety is fabulous. I've yet to do the complete list, but it's well over 70 with a couple of days to go, and the views have mostly been incredible.
I'll be attempting to write a comprehensive day-by-day blow at some point, but this will be on my dedicated photo blog, as I need to keep this blog free for ranting and so on. Lord only knows that trying to get back into UK birding will provoke some sort of reaction - I've not had a bird flushed by a dog all week....