Merja Zerga: Pilgrims of the Blue Lagoon

TALIM Merga Village + Cormorants
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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TALIM L'Espoir doveRecently 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.

TALIM Merga SpoonbillThe Merja Zerga (blue lagoon) is composed of brackish waters
and contains anywhere from 50% to 90 % salt water depending on the season.

TALIM Merga Egret
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.

This place is a paradise for sea birds like different types
of gulls, terns, oystercatchers and cormorants.
TALIM Merga Sandwich tern

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.

TALIM Merga Osprey and slender billed gull

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.

TALIM Merga Moulay Bousselham

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.

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