Quite possibly the coolest wild goose festival in the universe takes place every winter around a lake in western Hungary and the quaint town of Tata. It is also the only one I know of, but that is besides the point. The XI Tata Wild Goose Festival (Tatai Vadlúd Sokadalom) will take place on 25-27 November 2011 and it is bound to be at least as good as past years.
It seems people tend to arrive in the Tata area on Friday evening, ready for an early start on Saturday morning as, by the time the sky starts to get any colour in it, there are thousands of people lining the shore waiting for the morning spectacle as tens of thousands of geese start to move about. Peak winter counts are typically about 32,000 geese; mainly Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons), Tundra Bean Goose (Anser serrirostris), Greylag Goose (Anser anser) and Taiga Bean Goose (Anser fabalis – sensu stricto), with regular sightings of Lesser White-fronted Goose (Anser erythropus), Red-breasted Goose (Branta ruficollis) and the occasional Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis).
The Saturday of the goose festival is birdrace day – where groups race about during the day trying to see as many species as possible. But what makes this birdrace really special for me is the sheer number of families that take part with lots of surprisingly young children really getting in to birding.
But the real activity of the day happens around the main festival centre – this is a rather informal arrangement of tents with info, talks, food, art and other little general odds and ends. But it is also the central meeting point where people collect together to watch the geese coming and going.
10,000 people all watching the spectacle of 30,000 geese flying about! Can you imagine that?
Naturally, all the talks and everything is in Hungarian, but we still sat through some of the evening lectures because – as long as the images were good enough – it was still rather entertaining to see how the local birders expressed themselves. But this language “barrier” was – for me – one of the coolest things about the festival, that one needs to find a way to get by; completely immersed in another culture, but yet nevertheless bonded through a passion for birds.
Tata is also the home of Gyorgy “Szimi” Szimuly who many bird blog readers will know. What a lucky guy!
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