Not having been able to explore the area for in spring for several years when I returned to Alcala de los Gazules I set myself various ornithological targets. One major objective was to check on Little Bustard population near Benalup. This species has undergone a catastrophic decline in recent years with numbers in its 'heartlands' tumbling rapidly. According to the most recent national atlas the number of breeding males fell by almost half between 2005 and 2011. The position seems particularly critical in Castile-Leon (esp. in Zamora) and I've found them much harder to find around Osuna (Seville) in recent years. I've heard nothing to suppose the decline has halted. Yet in Cadiz province the number of surveyed squares that had lost the species as a breeding bird (4) is counterbalanced by squares where they seem to have been gained (5 - excluding a square the straddles the border) and in over twice that number they have persisted since earlier atlases.
However, I suspect the densities in some of these areas must be low. I've looked for them around Jerez and Conil without success (see my map adapted from the most recent Spanish Atlas - see https://atlasaves.seo.org/ave/sison-comun/).
The arrival of my friend Chris Cox meant that on 02/05 I had another look at this site. Once again I found no birds at (a) and disappointingly the bird at (b) was silent. Determined to find the birds, Chris and I walked along the Corredor Verde dos Bahias for c1 km beyond the track to the finca (c) but to no avail. As we turned back towards the car I spotted two 'Mallards' out of the corner of my eye but as I raised my binoculars to check I realised that they were actually a pair of Little Bustards! As the male chased the female over our heads and away towards Benalup, a third bird, a male, rose up from the fields and joined the chase flicking his head up as he did so. Result! As we turned back towards the car I spotted a further two male bustards flying over the field at (b). Five birds is the most I've ever seen at this site so perhaps a little cautious optimism about their future here is warranted.
I confess that when out in Spain I often skip breakfast in my keenness to get out birding asap. Then, if the birding's good, I tend to forget about lunch too until it's too late to bother. However, when I'm out early in the morning and the weather takes a change for the worse or it's too misty to see the birds, I am often tempted by having the 'standard' Spanish breakfast - a tostada. I've done so several times at Venta La Casilla as it's convenient for the track opposite which leads to an area that sometimes has Little Bustard. It's very much a working man's venta and if you order a tostada you get the usual round of toast with small foil containers of pate, olive oil or a small dish of 'tomate' (mashed tomato with oil & garlic).
However, in April when I found the valley at Los Badalejos swathed in mist and decided to have an atypical breakfast stop I opted to go upmarket and try the Cortijo de los Monteros. Unusually, I'd eaten there at lunchtime several times and always found the food excellent but didn't really expect anything other than the usual fare for my breakfast. I was so wrong!
The first clue that I was in for something different was when the waiter appeared with a large tray rather than a small plate. The waiter proudly told me that the bread had been baked that morning by his uncle and that he'd come out with a second slice of toast later so that it too was warm when I ate it. He then loaded my table with a plate on which there were two pates and a dollop of manteca colorá (pork dripping flavoured with paprika), two scoops of more dripping of some sort (both laden with meat), a dish of Spanish stew (chorizo, black pudding, etc) and a dish of calves' liver. It would have been more than enough for two and I struggled to eat less than half (declining the second slice of toast). I expected a hefty bill but I was charged only about a € more than the usual price of €2.50 - €3.00 and rather less than you'd pay in touristy areas (plus €1.20 for coffee). So if you try for Little Bustards early one morning and then feel peckish you know where to go (unless you're a vegetarian who, presumably, starve at breakfast in Spain!)