This guest post by house guest Christiane Delongueville is in the realm of "singing for your supper," or, to put it more genteely, making the most of our limited resources here at TALIM. We could have asked our talented Brussels friend Christiane to share with specialists her extensive knowledge of molluscs in the Strait of Gibraltar and Mediterranean, or suggested an illustrated talk on her wonderful collection of nature photography in the Arctic. But the easiest (for us!) was simply to ask her to share with our readers her great photos from a day on the Merja Zerga lagoon at Moulay Bousselham, a couple of hours' drive south of Tangier. For Moroccan birdwatchers keen for such detail, the photos were taken in late February. Click on photos to see full-size.
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Recently I had the privilege of being a guest at the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies (TALIM). A lot of my time was devoted to admiring all the magnificent paintings and documents exposed in the museum rooms open to the public.
When the question arose - “What can we do this weekend in the vicinity of Tangier?” - inspiration came when looking at the painting: “L’espoir” (1994 by Mouh El Hachimi) showing a dove perched in an open window. The choice was made; we would travel south to look at Moroccan birds.
Examination of the old maps at the Legation was of limited help; only the river Loukkos was mentioned. We headed for Moulay Bousselham, a quiet fishing village (when not filled with 200,000 pilgrims during the annual moussem of Sidi Moulay Bousselham) 30 km south of Larache, where the lagoon is renowned for its migratory birds. Some birds spend the winter; others use this body of water as a stop during their migrations. This is also a great spot for fishing. Eels are caught in special nets and clams are taken by hand from the bottom of the lagoon at low tide.
With the help of a guide and his boat we explored different areas of the lagoon, including a stop on a sand bank. We were lucky with the weather, and the sunshine and our binoculars helped us spot a lot of birds. Of course the easiest to see are the bigger ones like flamingoes, grey herons, egrets and even a spoonbill.
We could see different species and looked at beak, leg, and tail colors for hints: were we looking at adults or juveniles? The rare Andouins gull and the Sandwich tern were very close to us.
Further we came across the waders, birds eating small invertebrates in the mud in a coastal environment.
Here we looked at differences between males and female, behavior… We saw plovers, turnstones, curlew with their nicely curved beaks.
The climax was an osprey back from fishing, peacefully eating its big fish on a half-submerged boat, with a slender billed gull waiting for some remains.
On our way back we saw a big group of cormorants drying their wings and a mix of different types of sea birds (photo at top of page). The tide from the nearby Atlantic was coming in and the birds were on the point of leaving the deepening lagoon for more comfortable places to await the next tide.
We finished this idyllic morning with a fish lunch in a peaceful restaurant of Moulay Bousselham. I hope to have given you a taste of how wonderful this place is and which is worth a visit… at low tide.
Photos and text by Christiane Delongueville.