Explore Tangier, Tetouan and the northwest
MOULAY BOUSSELHAM, 55km from Ksar el Kebir, is a very low-key resort, popular almost exclusively with Moroccans. It comprises little more than a single street, crowded with grill-cafés and sloping down to the sea at the side of a broad lagoon and wetland area, known as Merja Zerga. This is one of northern Morocco’s prime birdwatching locations (see Wetland wildlife), and avid bird watchers from all over the world come here to see the lagoon’s flamingo and other bird colonies.
The beach itself is sheltered by cliffs – rare along the Atlantic – and has an abrupt drop-off, which creates a continual crash of breaking waves. While a lot of fun for swimming as well as beginner surfers, the currents can at times be quite strong and only the most confident of swimmers should venture out past the breakers. In summer, a section of the beach is patrolled by lifeguards.
For Moroccans, the village is part summer resort, part pilgrimage centre. The saint from whom the village takes its name, the Marabout Moulay Bousselham, was a tenth-century Egyptian, whose remains are housed in a koubba prominently positioned above the settlement. In July this sees one of the largest moussems in the region.Read More
Adjoining the Moulay Bousselham lagoon is a large wetland area known as Merja Zerga (“Blue Lake”). The lagoon’s periphery is used for grazing by nomadic herds of sheep, cattle and goats, and the lagoon itself is a Ramsar-listed Wetland of International Importance, and is one of the largest of its kind in Morocco.
The huge extent of the site ensures rewarding birdwatching at all times of the year. There are large numbers of waders, including a large colony of flamingos, plus little-ringed plovers, black-winged stilts and black-tailed godwits.
For serious birdwatchers, it is the gulls and terns that roost on the central islands which are worthy of the closest inspection, as, among the flocks of lesser black-backed gull and black tern, it is possible to find rarer species such as Caspian tern. The adjacent grassland is probably the best place in Morocco to see pairs of North African marsh owl, which usually appear hunting above the tall grasses shortly after sunset. Marsh harrier and osprey can also sometimes be spotted. One bird you’ll certainly see wintering here, usually around cattle (and sometimes sitting on their backs), is the cattle egret. For rarity-spotters, the current grail is the lesser crested tern and its cousin the royal tern, both immigrants from Mauretania during spring and summer.
English-speaking local ornithologist Hassan Dalil (t 0668 434110) is easily the best guide in the region, and can be contacted directly or via the Café Milano in Moulay Bousselham, which also keeps a bird log. Hassan charges 100dh per hour for a tour around Merja Zerga by boat and his expertise is immediately evident. These tours are best taken in early morning or at dusk, depending on the tides; the boat isn’t shaded so bring along a hat, protective clothing, sunscreen and water.