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Hortobágy-halastó Nature Trail - Fishponds


Demonstration: nature trail with information boards, system of bird hides

Accessibility: on the main Road 33 at the 67 kilometre mark there is a side road parting to Halastó (from Budapest direction, on the M3 motorway).

The system of fishponds of Hortobágy-Halastó covering 2073 hectares was created in 1915 in a alkaline grassland area called "Csúnyaföld" (Bad Lands). Formerly there were seventeen ponds, while now seven are out of use being covered by reed or other marsh vegetation; some separated lakes fusioned with breaking dykes. Halastó is a Ramsar site maintaining breeding and migrating waterfowl populations of outstanding importance, so it is considered as one of the most important waterbird habitats in Europe.

Flora of Halastó is well characterised by continous marsh vegetation. Reed-, catstail beds and reed-grass vegetation occupying open-water surfaces are typical. The reed-grass vegetation dominated by Floating heart (Nymphoides), White Water-Lily (Nymphaea) and Nuphar are important, not only because some species of these vegetation are protected but they provide ideal nesting habitat for colonies of hundred pairs of Whiskered Terns. Willow trees growing on the dykes are important part of passerine ecological corridors leading towards unwooded grasslands.

The year - when waterfowl-hunting was banned in the area - was the starting date of Pygmy Cormorant recolonisation in Halastó. The number of breeding pairs has been increasing since then. Halastó is the only known breeding site of them in Hungary yet, however a countrywide expansion is expected in other wetlands of our country, too. Glossy Ibis breeds regularly without any other breeding site in Hungary. At Halastó there is large Spoonbill colony of 200 to 250 pairs, which is the largest one in Middle Europe. Colonies of Cormorants, Grey and Purple Herons, Little and Great White Egrets, Squacco Herons and Night Herons also dwell here. These species create colonies in reedbeds as well as on treetops.

Migration of geese is spectacular event at Halastó. During springtime ten thousands of geese - sometimes around 200 thousands all over the Hortobágy - land at Halastó for their daily drinks and roost arriving late in the evening from feeding areas of the surrounding agricultural fields. Most of the geese migrating over Hortobágy are White-fronted Geese, while a smaller but considerable portion of them are Greylags and Bean Geese. Halastó is one of the most important stopover-site of the European population of the Lesser White-fronted Goose being globally threatened species. Sometimes their number goes up as high as four hundred birds. Red-breasted Geese turn up in the flocks as rarities with the observations of them becoming more regular from year to year.

The best season to watch duck migration is autumn, when flocks of ten thousands of birds of 6 to 7 species are spending some months with feeding, roosting and safe moulting in the shallow waters of Halastó.

Crane migration makes autumn an unforgettable season at Halastó. Birds arriving from Northern Europe (mostly from Finland) in the first half of September stay over here up to the set of longer frosts. From here they migrate over Sicily and the Bosporus up to the wintering grounds in Tunisia and Sudan. More than 95 percent of the Cranes flying over Hungary migrate over Hortobágy. By the time of the stopover period most of them are roosting in an undisturbed lake with shallow water in it at Halastó. During the last one and a half decades the number of cranes migrating across Hortobágy inreased from 3,000 up to 65,000. This increasing is possibly due to some unexplained shift of an eastern migration route. The largest number of Cranes that ever roosted in Halastó was 55,000 in 1998.

Large number of birds appear also at Halastó by the time of shorebird migration, that is especially emphasized by Ruffs, Black-tailed Godwits and Curlews. It is also a great time for birding since quite a lot shorebird rarities turn up in drained fishponds.

Halastó is also an important breeding and stopover site for many passerines. All species of Acrocephalus warblers nesting in Hungary breed here except for Aquatic Warbler. In the reedbeds one can find good numbers of breeding Bearded Tits, Moustached Warblers as well as Waterrails and Little Crakes.

The number of wintering White-tailed Eagle is often between 50 and 70 in the Hortobágy region with up to 25 individuals at Halastó.

Otters are strictlyprotected in Hungary and there are many of them in the undisturbed places of Halastó.