In early April we made a trip to the Southeast Madrid Regional Park organized by SEO-Vanellus. Despite its proximity to Madrid and the man-made changes it has suffered, this territory still preserves a surprising wildlife richness.

The Lesser Kestrel was the first species we saw, together with a crowded group of Barn Swallows that had just arrived from Africa and were timidly reconstructing their nests.

Until the 1990’s, one of the last refuges of the Lesser Kestrel in the central region of the Iberian Peninsula had been in the bombed church of San Justo and San Pastor. The building was partially destroyed during the civil war that devastated Spain between 1936 and 1939. Only its walls and external facades were preserved. Since then, the kestrels have been using the destroyed inside to build their nests.

With the construction of kestrel barns in order to favour nesting, the Lesser Kestrel population in the centre of the Peninsula started to recover at the end of the 20th century. However, the colony of the church of San Justo and San Pastor fell into decline due to the refurbishment of the facades and the fragmentation of the surrounding hunting grounds as a result of the road courses of the new Madrid ring road (M-50) and the new high speed train between Madrid and Seville. The Lesser Kestrel colony is nowadays limited to just one or two breeding pairs.

When we left the Caserío of Perales del Río, our view of the gypsiferous cliffs of the Manzanares River was really bad due to the fog, although, luckily, it cleared up throughout the morning. During our route we walked very close to a sandy slope, where we could appreciate troglodyte nests from a Sand Martin (or maybe a bee-eater) colony. Unfortunately, we couldn’t detect any activity; probably its tenants are still in their trip back from Africa.

We could see more and more White Storks. The relative proximity of the huge Valdemingomez rubbish dump and the supplementary feeding provided are noticeable. Near the Roman villa of La Torrecilla we could admire two, three and even four specimens of Black Kite, authentically spectacular and prelude of what we would see next.
We went deeper into the Regional Park, crossing the Manzanares River and finally arriving at the gypsiferous cliffs. In the closest zone to the river, the number of White Stork nests is very high; some trees have up to five nests. We followed the foot of the cliffs, sighting a numerous group of kites in the distance; most of them were Black Kites, although as the fog was clearing up we could recognize at least one beautiful Red Kite.

When we reached the most distant point of our route we could see, from one of the old battle trenches of Guadarrama, about thirty specimens of Black Kite rising in circles and, among them, a Booted Eagle.

We started our way back at this point, stopping at the remains of the Manzanares Royal Channel, a waterway that communicated Madrid and Toledo until the middle of the 19th century, and which was abandoned short after the inauguration of the Madrid-Aranjuez railway. With a wonderful sun we crossed the Manzanares River again, admiring the dozens of White Storks which were slowly rising in the sky. Among them there was a black spot, a real Griffon Vulture, a rarity in the Regional Park.
It was a great birding day; the Regional Park delighted us with a large number of species in a short route. SEO-Vanellus proved that we can also find real treasures in environments that have been altered by humans.

When we returned to the Caserío of Perales del Río, we looked back to give our farewell to this wonderful place. Almost above us, a group of White Storks was slowly rising, as if they were also saying goodbye. One of the birdwatchers from the group raised his voice and said: A Sacred Ibis! We couldn’t get a better farewell than the sight of this rarity, a bird whose presence is almost unknown in Madrid.

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