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.

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