In June this year, four days after finishing university, I was lucky enough to spend two weeks with the Barn Owl Foundation Hungary. This was arranged through Ambios and The Leonardo Programme – both set up to offer young people training in a variety of areas.
Along with me on the trip were five other volunteers and our mentor Mike – a complete botany nerd that taught me more about plants in two weeks than a whole module in university ever did.
After spending our first night in a hostel in Budapest, we were greeted on the first morning by this critter – an abandoned little owl chick. Do not let looks deceive you. On first glance, it might appear cute and fluffy…but over the following two weeks it proved itself to be the Harry Houdini of the owl world. After escaping five or so times from his box in our accommodation, he ended up in a box, inside a box, inside the wardrobe (well ventilated of course!).
Our other ward for the week was an abandoned barn owl chick, who was very well behaved, despite the creepy hissing noise it insisted on making all week.
(Photo Cara Daneel)
The barn owl chicks have a very endearing habit of swaying their heads from side to side, which according to Akos from the foundation is because they can’t move their eyes inside the sockets, so instead they move their heads.
Some of the other residents at the foundation included the tawny owl “Tony”, who had been hit by a combine harvester. He couldn’t be rehabilitated so instead was used for educational purposes in schools.
As well as two long eared owl chicks, and two tawny owl chicks – all eventually to be returned to the wild.
Among many nature reserved we visited during our stay, Orseg National Park stood out for it’s sheer size and range of habitats.
The abundance of wildlife there was just incredible, with more butterflies than I had ever seen, golden oriole, black woodpecker, fire bellied toad, newts, centipedes, millipedes, harriers – and surprisingly, a European butterfly expert Sáfián Szabolcs. He bounded up to us in a wild flower meadow and took us under his wing for hours.
Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary
(Photo Cara Daneel)
One of the main tasks of the foundation is barn owl surveying, and in Hungary the majority of the owls are found in church towers rather than barns. We visited five church towers to check nest boxes, and if chicks were present – weigh and ring them.
Female Barn Owl
Owlet ready to be ringed
Hungary also bought with it my first experience of mothing, and my god were some of them beautiful! I haven’t got ID’s for any of the moths we caught as it is a subject I feel would swallow me whole if I ever got started with it.
A very unexpected visitor to our moth session….
A species of long eared bat, not sure how different to ours it was
The highlight of the trip for me was the day that started at 3am, at Kis Balaton Wetland Reserve, a European RAMSAR site. We had started the day so early to help out with the regular survey of great white and little egrets as well as purple, grey and night herons.
I have never, ever seen so many birds in all of my life and there is absolutely no doubt as to why this is site has been given such special protection,
Two surprises this day – WHITE TAILED EAGLES!?! Which were so much bigger than I imagined, and very very noisy.
Bat pups – so many of them. Unfortunate they were on the ground underneath their artificial roost. After phoning a local bat worker we were instructed to put them back on the roost after picking off all the pesky mites, because they are able to find their way back to their mothers. Since then I’ve learnt that bat pups are often ejected from the roost in times of food shortage (unlikely in this case) and high parasite levels. This might explain why, when we returned a few days later a large number were again under the roost.
The overwhelming feeling I had whilst in Hungary was this – why can’t Britain be like this? I know there is a huge geographical and population difference but I could not get over how natural, green, and wild it all was.
I would thoroughly recommend going there for any sort of wildlife trip, and I kick myself for not having a long enough lens to capture more of the amazing things I saw.
The barn owl foundation in Hungary are always taking volunteers, whether it is short or long term and I really would recommend it to anyone looking to gain skills in surveying, bird care and public outreach.
More information can be found here: http://gyongybagoly.hu/index.php/englishunion-jackjpg/about-us
- Britain’s barn owls under threat due to extreme weather (theguardian.com)
- Barn owls (jamiecastell.wordpress.com)
- Barn owl bedsit (shropshirewildlifetrust.wordpress.com)