The North Coast
This section covers the most important birdwatching sites in northern Morocco, from the strait of Gibraltar in the north to the cork woods near Rabat in the south. The sites are described from north to south, thus beginning with the strait.
The strait of Gibraltar is one of the main flyways for birds migrating to and from the Eurasian breeding grounds and the Sub-Saharan wintering grounds (the other being Bosporus) and points on the Moroccan mainland around Tangier offer lots of opportunities to watch this natural wonder, both spring and autumn. In this section strategies for migration watching under different wind conditions (both spring and fall) are discussed.
Details are also given for a site just north of Asilah that is good for Great Bustard, as well as Little Bustard and wintering Common Cranes.
Another site not far from Tangier is the Oued Loukkos marshes near Larache (about 90 kms south of Tangier); this is one of the best wetlands in northern Morocco and can be particularily rewarding during the migration seasons, when thousands of birds en route between Africa and Europe stop here. The winter months can also be good, though, and this is a fairly reliable site for wintering Little Bustards. A resident breeder here of particular interest is the Moustached Warbler.
South of Larache is another wetland that is world famous among birders; Merja Zerga. The bird that most birders associate with Merja Zerga is the Slender-billed Curlew as small numbers were known to winter here. Unfortunately none has been seen here since 1998 and the species might actually be extinct by now. That does not mean that Merja Zerga doesn't have a lot to offer; birding here can be fantastic, particularily in the winter months, with tens of thousand of ducks, coots and shorebirds. Merja Zerga is moreover one of the best places in Morocco for both Marsh Owl and Red-necked Nightjar and there are other interesting birds breeding here as well.
Also included in the Merja Zerga section are three other, smaller lagoons (Merja's) between Merja Zerga and Larache; Merja Halloufa, Merja Bargha and Merja Oulad Sgher.
Between Kenitra and Rabat you find Lake Sidi Bourhaba, this is an interesting lake that hold good numbers of birds, particularily ducks, in the winter months. This is also a site where rare birds are frequently found and there are some interesting breeding birds here, most notably Marsh Owl which is often seen here at dusk.
The last site covered in this section is Sidi Yahya Zaer (or rather the cork woods between Sidi Yahya Zaer and Sidi Bettache); the primary bird people are looking for here is the Double-spurred Francolin, which is quite numerous here, as is the Black-crowned Tchagra.
The Strait of Gibraltar
(مضيق جبل طارق)
Migrating birds tend to avoid large, open stretches of water during their migrations and this is particularily true for large birds as, for instance, raptors, storks and pelicans. These birds are mostly dependent on thermals of warm air giving an upward drift with which they can soar effortlessly to high altitudes, and from here they can glide long distances. Eventually they lose height, but then they can pick up a new thermal, soar up to a high altitude again and the process repeats. This is a very energy efficient mean of travelling long distances.
These thermals do not develop very well over water, however, and the birds are here thus forced to continue their journey in an active flight mode (actually flapping their wings). This is energy consuming and hence these birds tend to migrate over land unless they really have to cross open water and then they cross where the distance is the shortest possible.
Smaller birds are not dependent on thermals for the migration (as they are not able to deploy the warm air for soaring), but landbirds that cannot stop and rest on water if necessary, also have a natural tendency to avoid large stretches of water.
The result of all this is that at some geographic locations huge numbers of birds concentrate during migration seasons before they attempt a sea crossing, and the result can often be spectacular! Birds breeding in Europe and wintering in Africa do have to cross the Mediterranean Sea and there are two places that are particularily good for sea-avoiding migrants; the strait of Bosporus in the east and the strait of Gibraltar in the west. The strait of Gibraltar is only some 17 kms wide at the narrowest and impressive numbers can be seen here spring and autumn.
The spring migration starts early and good numbers of some species can be seen already from early March. Later in the month numbers pick up and April and May are the best months in spring. Late in May it gets much quieter, but some species can be seen migrating through in early summer. Late in July/August the first birds start on the southbound journey and for instance Black Kite can be quite numerous. Late August to late October is the peak period in fall, with some species, like Griffon Vulture, passing through in November. December and January are mostly quiet wrt migrating birds.
Where to watch the migration of birds from the Tangier peninsula depends on the prevailing wind conditions. Generally speaking the wind direction is mainly easterly or westerly and the birds leave, or enter, northern Morocco at the downside of the wind. Ie an easterly wind blow the main stream of birds towards the western half of the peninsula and a westerly wind towards the east. To be a little more specific, with an easterly wind in spring birds tend to follow the coastline northeastwards from Tangier to the northernmost point of the peninsula near Jebel Musa. Jebel Musa is a prominent mountain that birds use for orientation and the crossing here is at its shortest, thus many birds leave Africa here. When the wind is predominantly westerly birds are concentrating on the eastern side of the peninsula and they follow the east coast north to the southern shore of the strait, head west and again exit around Punta Ceres, near Jebel Musa. Either way this area is the best if you want to see the action (but see note about days with weak wind below).
In the fall the birds coming in from Europe likewise enter Africa here at the northernmost point of the peninsula, but on days with an easterly they tend to be pushed further west.
Generally speaking birds tend to concentrate more if it is a strong wind and if the wind is weak birds migrate across on a broader front. On days in spring with very gentle wind birds can exit Morocco from any point between Tangier and Jebel Musa.
For the timing during the day the migration starts a few hours after sunrise and continues well into the afternoon. This is the part of the day with the best thermals. Early in the morning there are no thermals so birds that depend on them will not be crossing at this time. There might of course be a mass movement of passerines, bee-eaters etc early in the morning as they cross the strait with an active flight.
There are some interesting birds to be found in this area apart from the birds migrating across the strait. The most important of these is the Great Bustard, which breed just north of Asilah (less than 50 kms south of Tangier). This small, relict population is said to be the only one remaining in Africa. The best area is the fallow agricultural land to the east of the village of Aquouass Briech. You can check this area from several minor roads, mainly between Aquouass Briech and Had Gharbia. Stop at suitable locations and scan the fallow fields for Great Bustard, as well as Little Bustard and wintering Common Cranes (Oct - Mar).
Another site that can be worth a visit, mainly for gulls and terns is the mouth of Oued Mharhar, a few kms north of Aquouass Briech. You can park near the bridge, where the N1 crosses the river. Check the sand dunes for gulls and terns, there are almost always interesting birds to be found between the Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls and this has included genuine Moroccan rarities in the past. It is also worth to check the salt marshes upstream of the bridge for wintering shorebirds and ducks. These marshes are also said to hold breeding Marsh Owls, but I have no recent information to confirm this.
Wooded areas around Tangier and Asilah should be checked for Black-winged Kite, Booted Eagle, Eurasian Hobby, Woodlark, Dartford Warbler, Eurasian Golden Oriole and Woodchat Shrike, all of which breed here. One area that can be particularily productive is the Cap Spartel nature resere just to the west of Tangier. Cap Spartel can also hold impressive numbers of roosting raptors waiting for favourable weather conditions before crossing the strait.
Common birds in cultivated areas on the peninsula include Long-legged Buzzard, Barbary Partridge, Eurasian Stone-curlew, Little Owl, Calandra Lark and Thekla Lark. The House Bunting has expanded its range in Morocco in recent years, and now appears to be common in Tangier.
Birds around the Strait
Early spring (Mar - Apr):
Cory's Shearwater, White Stork, Black Kite, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Western Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Lesser Kestrel and Common Kestrel.
Late spring (Apr - May):
Balearic Shearwater, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Honey Buzzard, Griffon Vulture, Eurasian Hobby, European Bee-eater, Common Swift and Pallid Swift
Early autumn (Jul - Sep):
Balearic Shearwater, Yelkouan Shearwater, Black Kite, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Eurasian Honey Buzzard, Egyptian Vulture, Western Marsh Harrier, Montagu's Harrier and Lesser Kestrel
Late autumn (Oct - Nov):
Cory's Shearwater, Red Kite, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Northern Goshawk, Common Buzzard, Booted Eagle, Griffon Vulture, Hen Harrier, Peregrine Falcon, Eurasian Hobby and Merlin
Balearic Shearwater, Black-winged Kite, Booted Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Eurasian Hobby, Lanner Falcon, Barbary Partridge, Great Bustard, Little Bustard, Eurasian Stone-curlew, Yellow-legged Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Caspian Tern, Sandwich Tern, Little Owl, Calandra Lark, Thekla Lark, Woodlark, Dartford Warbler, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Spotless Starling, Woodchat Shrike and House Bunting.
If coming over to Tangier by boat from Spain you should keep your eyes open for cetaceans, which are commonly seen in these waters. The most common species are Short-beaked Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis, دلفين شائع), Common Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus, دلفين شائع قاروري الأنف), Striped Dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba , دخس أزرق أبيض) and Long-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala melas, نهنگ خلبان). Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus, حوت زعنفي) and Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus, حوت العنبر) are also possible in the strait.
Generally speaking no permits are needed for birding around Tangier or the strait. One exception is the area for the Great Bustard around the radio masts near Aquouass Briech, Asilah. Mostly it will not be a problem to scan the fields here for bustards and cranes, but do show some common sense near the radio masts as this is a sensitive military area (the road to the installations is a forbidden zone).
Food and accommodation:
There is a plethora of suitable accommodation for every budget in Tangier. Asilah has also become a popular destination for domestic tourism and finding nice accommodation here shouldn't be a problem either.
Tangier can be reached by air, road or ferry. If flying in you have Tangier Ibn Batouta Airport just to the southwest of Tangier; it is an international airport but international connections are mainly limited to a few European destinations.
Tangier is well connected by sea-routes to Spain, and many birders come in by boat. Apart from several departures per day from Tarifa and Algeciras it has the added convenience of offering good opportunities watching some seabirds (mainly Cory's and Balearic Shearwaters) and cetaceans (see 'Other Wildlife' above for details). An alternative to Tangier is Ceuta, the Spanish enclave in the northeastern corner of the peninsula; Ceuta is also well served by ferries from Spain (Algeciras).
If driving from the south Tangier can easily be reached by the main A1 highway (Autoroute du Nord); Larache (Oued Loukkos Marshes) is only some 80 kms to the south. Getting from Tangier to the northern part of the peninsula (Punta Ceres and Jebel Musa) you can follow the coastal N16 (41 km) or the faster A4 (50 km).
If you want to bird around Asilah and Aquouass Briech both can be reached from the coastal N1 road (running more or less parallel to the A1 highway). The minor roads around Aquouass Briech can be reached from the N1 and if you want to bird the mouth of the Oued Mharhar this is most conveniently done from the N1 bridge.
The Oued Loukkos Marshes, Larache
(العرايش, El Araich)
The Oued Loukkos marshes near Larache is some of the best wetlands in northern Morocco and if birding the Strait of Gibraltar it can easily be reached on a day-trip (it is only some 80 kms south of Tangier). The marshes are good for wintering waterbirds, particularily ducks, but both the numbers of birds you can see, as well as the variety, is better during the migration seasons.
The birds of greatest interest here to the visiting birdwatcher are probably Red-knobbed Coot, Western Swamphen and Moustached Warbler, all of which are resident breeders. The numbers of the coot and the swamphen do also swell in the winter months and particularily the coot is then numerous (hundreds).
The best way to bird this area is from the P4401 road; the 4 kms after passing under the A1 highway are the best. What the best places are for birding varies with water levels, but the main marshes are to the right of the P4401 road, about 2 kms after the highway. But the marshes to the left of the road closer to the highway can also be very good. Red-knobbed Coot should be easy to find on the marshes, along with the numerous ducks. Ferruginous Duck and Red-crested Pochard are fairly common in winter and Marbled Duck is also often seen here. Check the edges of the reed beds for Western Swamphen. Just at the northern end of the main marshes is a very good spot for Moustached Warbler: 1,5 kms from the highway you should see a small stream to the right with some low tamarisks and reedbeds. The Moustached Warbler has been seen here by several visiting groups.
Another interesting option is a dirt track leading into the marshy area, this is 500 m from the highway. From this track you can check some marshes on one side and extensive reedbeds on the other. The best birds I have had here are Red-knobbed Coot and a flock of Brown-throated Martins (March 2016).
After 3,5 kms from the highway you get to a barrage; the grasslands here are said to be good for Little Bustard in the winter. Other interesting birds in this drier part of Oued Loukkos are Eurasian Stone-curlew and Spanish Sparrow.
Breeding passerines around the marsh and the surrounding farmland include Crested Lark, Common Bulbul, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Sardinian Warbler, European Serin and Corn Bunting.
Another site near Larache that is worth a visit is the saltpans just to the east of the town. These saltpans can be very good for gulls and terns, but also shorebirds are numerous here. The saltpans can be checked from the main road near the bridge, but note that the traffic can be heavy here. A better option might be the first road to the right when driving back to Larache after the bridge (to Larache port). From this road you have a view over the southern part of the saltpans. An even better option might be to drive east over the bridge and take the first road to the left, towards Ras Rmel beach (signposted Plage Ras Rmel). This road follows the northern shore of the river, and you can stop at suitable places and scan the river and the saltpans/marshes. There is not much traffic on this road. In migration periods you could consider to check the vegetation near the beach for migrants.
If spending some time in the town itself you should check out the main square (Place de la Libération); huge numbers of Common and Pallid Swifts breed here, and there is even a small colony of Little Swifts (a few pairs only). House Bunting might also be expected in Larache, listen for its distinctive song with an almost Chaffinch like quality.
Birds at the Oued Loukkos Marshes
Oued Loukkos Marshes:
Greylag Goose, Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Ferruginous Duck, Red-crested Pochard, Marbled Duck, Grey and Purple Heron, Little Egret, Squacco Heron, Great Cormorant (ssp. maroccanus), Little Bustard, Red-knobbed Coot, Western Swamphen, Eurasian Stone-curlew, Black-winged Stilt, Crested Lark, Common Bulbul, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Moustached Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Spanish Sparrow, European Serin and Corn Bunting.
Mediterranean Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Caspian Tern, Royal Tern (rare) and Whiskered Tern.
Pallid Swift, Common Swift, Little Swift and House Bunting.
No permits are needed for the Oued Loukkos marshes.
Food and accommodation:
There is some accommodation to be found in Larache, but you have more variety in Asilah, some 45 kms to the north.
Larache can easily be reached from Tangier, or from the south, on the A1 highway, alternatively on the N1 main road. To get to the sites describe here you will have to exit the A1 onto the N1 (Avenue Omar Ben Abdelaziz); follow this avenue for 6,5 kms until you again exit Larache on the east side of town. If you follow the road for another 500 m you have the P4401 road to the right (signposted BARRAGE DE GARDE and SUR OUED LOUKKOS). After 3,5 kms you get to the A1 highway which you drive under and you have the Loukkos marshes after another 2-3 kms. If you want to check the saltpans the road to the port area is about 100 m before the P4401. For Ras Rmel beach, continue on the main road for another 2 kms (thus crossing the river) and take the first road to the left (signposted PLAGE RAS RMEL). This road ends at the beach after 7,5 kms.
( لمرجة الزرقاء, Lagune de Moulay Bou Selham )
Merja Zerga is a tidal lagoon on the Atlantic coast, about 40 km south of Larache or 70 km north of Kenitra. This world famous wetland is of major importance as a wintering site for Palaearctic ducks and shorebirds. Between 15.000 and 30.000 ducks winter here and the waders number between 50.000 - 100.000. Greater Flamingo is common in winter and in the migration seasons, when thousands of birds are present in the lagoon.
One major attraction here a few years ago was the Slender-billed Curlew; until 1998 a few individuals of this globally threatened species were seen here every winter. Since then there have been no more records, but if you feel you would like to have a go at it, you should check out the meadows and fields to the east of the lagoon. The area around the village of Lagnafda was the best place for this wader.
Nowadays the most interesting species for the global birder is probably the Marsh Owl, which is regularily seen here at dusk. One of the most popular sites used to be the camping near Merja Khala (just outside Moulay Bousselham), where the owls were often seen flying out of the daytime roosts just after sunset. Apparently this is not more the case as the vegetation here was burned down a couple of years ago and there is probably also increased disturbance from the campsite which is growing ever more popular year by year. The best bet nowadays is probably the area around the Nador channel on the southern end of the lagoon. By hanging out in this area late in the afternoon you will probably be approached by locals offering to show you the owls ('hibou' in French), against a small fee of course. There is also an area just outside the village of Ahmiri where the owl can be seen. When driving south on the P4214 from Ahmiri you get to some greenhouses. Just before the greenhouses a dirt track leads down towards the lagoon. You can park at the end of this track and try this area. If you want to know the exact whereabouts you should contact a local guide; Hassan Dalil found this place for the owls and can be recommended as a guide (see below for contact information).
Another good bird that you can find in the southern part of Merja Zerga is the Red-necked Nightjar. You can listen for this species in the cork woods around the Ouled Messbah village and the Nador channel.
If you want to check out the birds in the lagoon, you have several options; if you have a car you can drive along the P4214 on the east side and stop anywhere you have a good view over the lagoon. From this road you have the best view of ducks and waders. Of the ducks the Eurasian Wigeon is by far the most common, but also the other Eurasian dabbling ducks can be very numerous as well as Common Shelduck. Careful scanning of the ducks could also reveal some less common species, as Ruddy Shelduck, Marbled Duck, Red-crested Pochard and Ferruginous Duck. Other interesting water birds are Greater Flamingo (common) and Red-knobbed Coot (a few dozen winter). The most common waders in Merja Zerga are Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Ringed Plover, Common Redshank, Pied Avocet and Kentish Plover. Black-winged Stilt and Collared Pratincole both breed here; a colony with a few hundred pairs of Collared Pratincole can be found near the Nador channel in the southern part of the lagoon. There is also a road going north from Ouled Messbah village along the western side of the lagoon all the way to the outlet of the lagoon (to the south of Moulay Bousselham). From this road you also get good views over the lagoon and near the lagoon outlet you can look for gulls and terns, which can be numerous here. Slender-billed, Mediterranean and Audouin's Gulls and Caspian Tern are frequently seen here, among the commoner species. Another good vantage point is Merja Khala just to the south of Moulay Bousselham (walking distance); from here you have a good view of the northern part of the lagoon.
The numerous raptors at Merja Zerga should also be checked, and Black-winged Kite, Long-legged Buzzard and Montagu's Harrier are regularily seen here. Common breeding landbirds here are European Turtle Dove, Crested Lark, Western Yellow Wagtail (ssp. iberiae), Zitting Cisticola, Spotless Starling and Corn Bunting.
To the north of Merja Zerga are three other, smaller lagoons, of which I provide some brief information (see Bergier & Bergier for a fuller discussion of these sites). The lagoons are (from south to north) Merja Halloufa, Merja Bargha and Merja Oulad Sgher and all can hold very good numbers of waterbirds in winter and during the migration periods. Merja Bargha has a breeding population of Great Crested Grebe and in winter Little Grebe is very numerous; among the Little Grebes there should also be a few Black-necked Grebes. All three Merja's can be very good for dabbling ducks, Tufted Duck and Common Pochard. At Merja Halloufa the Red-crested Pochard can also be common in winter (up to a few hundred birds recorded). White-headed Duck is a rare winter visitor, but the number of records have increased the last years, particularily at Merja Bargha.
The coots should also be checked as up to a few hundred Red-knobbed Coots are to be found at Merja Bargha between the much commoner Eurasian Coot, and with some patience you should also be able to find a few Western Swamphens skulking in the vegetation.
The Merja's occasionally hold large numbers of gulls and terns and with some patience you might find some of the less common species between the abundant Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gulls. All three lakes are pretty good for Moroccan rarities and rarities here in the past have included several Nearctic species (mainly ducks and gulls). If available birding time is a concern you might want to focus on Merja Bargha as this seems to be the best of these three lakes.
Birds at Merja Zerga
Great Cormorant, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Squacco Heron, Western Cattle Egret, Greater Flamingo, Eurasian Spoonbill, White Stork, Greylag Goose, Common Shelduck, Mallard, Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Gadwall, Marbled Duck, Western Osprey, Black-winged Kite, Black Kite, Long-legged Buzzard, Western Marsh Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Kestrel, Eurasian Coot, Red-knobbed Coot, Northern Lapwing, Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Eurasian Stone-curlew, Common Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Collared Pratincole, Dunlin, Common Redshank, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Little Tern, Marsh Owl, Little Owl, Red-necked Nightjar, European Turtle Dove, Crested Lark, Western Yellow Wagtail (ssp. iberiae), Zitting Cisticola, Spotless Starling and Corn Bunting.
Black-necked Grebe, Little Egret, Western Cattle Egret, Greater Flamingo, Mallard, Gadwall, Garganey, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, Common Quail and Whiskered Tern.
Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Little Egret, Western Cattle Egret, Greater Flamingo, Mallard, Gadwall, Garganey, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, White-headed Duck, Black-winged Kite, Eurasian Coot, Red-knobbed Coot and Western Swamphen.
No permits are needed to bird the Merja Zerga
Food and accommodation:
There is basic accommodation available in Molay Bousselham, but it is a rather poor selection. The availability of accommodation elsewhere is much better and it is recommended to stay overnight either in Larache (40 kms) or Kenitra (80 kms).
Merja Zerga is about 40 kms to the south of Larache or 80 kms to the north of Kenitra, and can easily be reached on the main A1 highway. You can exit the A1 onto the R406 and follow this for about 7 kms to Moulay Bousselham (the exit is signposted).
When exiting the highway you can also follow the R406 in the opposite direction to the village of Dlalha about 2 kms after the exit. Immediately after the village turn right onto the P4214 and after a couple of kilometers you can start birding the eastern shore of the Merja. Stop at any convenient site where you have a good view of the action. This road continues for about 11 kms to the village of Ouled Mesbah. From here you can turn south again to connect with the highway, or turn right onto the P4211 to check the southern and western ends of Merja Zerga.
Please note that the condition of these two roads (P4214 and P4211) leaves a lot to be desired; they are either bad, or downright horrible, depending on prevalent weather conditions!
The easiest way to reach the three smaller Merja's is from the P4214 road running north paralell to the main A1. When taking the exit from the A1 towards Moulay Bousselham on the R406, the P4214 is the first road to the right (signposted Larache - Chouafaa). This goes straight north and after about 9 kms you see Merja Halloufa to the left. There are several small roads leading to the lake from here (about 2,5 kms). One of the best is 9,5 kms from the junction with R406 and leads straight to the southern tip of the lake. From here you have a good vantage point of the lake.
For access to Merja Bargha continue on the P4214 for another 8 kms, and take a minor road to the left a few hundred meters before the road passes under the highway. Follow this road for 1 - 1,5 km to a village and bird the lake from here. There is also a rough track connecting these two lakes to the west where it is said you can have good views of both lakes. Unfortunately this track is not drivable in wet conditions (winter).
For Merja Oulad Sgher continue on the P4214 for 10 kms (passing under the highway twice and navigating a sharp bend to the left). Immediately after the second underpass turn left onto a minor road that leads to the lake (less than 3 kms).
Lake Sidi Bourhaba
(Merja Sidi Boughaba)
Just on the outskirts of Kenitra (south of the village of Mehdya) lies the beautiful lake of Sidi Bourhaba. This is another wetland along the Moroccan coast that holds good numbers of ducks in the winter months, and this is a particularily reliable site for both Marbled Duck (which breeds) and White-headed Duck (small numbers winter annually). Two other interesting breeding birds here are Red-knobbed Coot (about 20 breeding pairs) and Marsh Owl. The Western Swamphen is seen here regularily and breeds here some years.
From the road along the western side of the lake you generally speaking have a good view of the open water and you can stop anywhere here and check the lake. The scrub here should be checked for Barbary Partridge and Eurasian Magpie's of the local subspecies mauretanica. In spring and autumn there is often also good visible migration of birds as smaller raptors, bee-eaters and various passerines over this area and Eleonora's Falcon is regularily seen here late in the spring. At the northern end of the lake is further a marsh area that can be excellent for birds. This marsh is also the best place for Marsh Owl, which is often seen hunting here at dusk. You can cross the lake on a causeway here and bird the eastern shore of the lake along a road that leads south from here. The poplars along this road should be checked for migrant passerines.
The mouth of the Oued Sebou, at the northern side of Mehdya, should be checked at low tide for shorebirds, gulls and terns, as several uncommon and rare species have been found here in the past. The mouth of the river is apparently also a good vantage point for watching seabirds as several good birds have been reported here (shearwaters, storm-petrels, jaegers, gulls, terns and even alcids).
Birds around Lake Sidi Bourhaba
Great Crested Grebe, Purple Heron, Squacco Heron, Western Cattle Egret, Greater Flamingo, Marbled Duck, Red-crested Pochard, Black-winged Kite, Western Marsh Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Eurasian Hobby, Eleonora's Falcon, Barbary Partridge, Eurasian Coot, Red-knobbed Coot, Western Swamphen, Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Marsh Owl, Cetti's Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Sardinian Warbler and Eurasian Magpie (ssp. mauretanica)
The southern part of the lake is a biological reserve with restricted access. The northern part of the lake has free access; it is actually a popular picnic area for the locals and you might therefore want to avoid Sidi Bourhaba on Sundays, when it can be very crowded!
Food and accommodation:
The nearest accommodation is in Mehdya, but you have a much better selection in nearby Kenitra (less than 10 kms away).
The easiest way to get to Lake Sidi Bourhaba is from the main N1 road between Rabat and Kenitra (Avenue Mohamed V); turn right onto the P4266 about 7 km south of Kenitra and you get to the southern part of the lake after about 2.5 kms. If coming from downtown Kenitra you can alternatively follow the P4266 via the village of Mehdya and you arrive at the northern part of the lake.
Sidi Yahya Zaer
(Sidi Yaya Zaër)
This section covers a large area between the towns of Sidi Yahya Zaer and Sidi Bettache. This area is dominated by cork-oak woods and is probably the best place to see and hear the Double-spurred Francolin, which is relatively common here. Most birders go to the forests around the Royal Hunting Lodge some 15 kms south of Sidi Yahya Zaer and at least manage to hear the species. There is a car park near the Hunting Lodge, and you can explore this area on foot. Either walk along the road or venture into the forest if possible (the forest to the east of the road is part of the hunting reserve and is fenced off). One good track leads into the forest 500 m to the south of the car park; follow the road to where it makes a gentle turn to the right, here you should see a narrow clearing in the scrub. Walk down this clearing to a narrow track leading further into the vegetation following a gently sloping gully.
It is generally assumed that if you want to find the francolin you should be here early in the morning (preferably before dawn) as the birds stop calling fairly early and if they are silent they are very hard to find. In my own experience birds are also active in the afternoon, but less so than in the morning. I have flushed birds here, and also heard them calling about one hour before sunset. This has also been reported by some other groups visiting this area.
While looking for the Francolin you should also hear singing Black-crowned Tchagra's in this area and Barbary Partridges and Little Owls are regularily seen. Sardinian Warbler is very abundant and might be one of the most charachteristic birds here. Raptors are also fairly abundant here with frequent sightings of Black Kite, Black-winged Kite, Long-legged Buzzard and Eurasian Sparrowhawk. Other common species are Eurasian Stone-curlew, Great Spotted Woodpecker, African Blue Tit, Eurasian Jay, Common Chaffinch (ssp. africana), European Greenfinch and Cirl Bunting.
Birds around Sidi Yahya Zaer
Black Kite, Black-winged Kite, Long-legged Buzzard, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Double-spurred Francolin, Barbary Partridge, Eurasian Stone-curlew, Little Owl, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Sardinian Warbler, African Blue Tit, Eurasian Jay, Black-crowned Tchagra, Common Chaffinch (ssp. africana), European Greenfinch and Cirl Bunting.
Large mammals you might see in this area include Golden Jackal (Canis aureus, شغال زرد), Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes , ثعلب أحمر) and Wild Boar (Sus scrofa, خنزير بري). Red Deer (Cervus elaphus, أيل أحمر) is a species introduced here for hunting purposes.
You can bird this general area without permits, as long as you stay near the road. Some parts of the woods are not fenced and you should be able to bird here without any trouble. Large parts are fenced off, however, like the grounds of the Royal Hunting Lodge; don't expect any permits to be granted for this area! And do not consider to trespass inside the hunting grounds, or any other fenced areas here as this will be private property.
Food and accommodation:
The nearest accommodation is to be found at the coast in Temara or Skhirat, both about 25 kms from the hunting lodge.
Driving through Temara on the N1 (Avenue Hassan II) turn left onto the R403 (Avenue Moulay Hassan I) and follow this for 10 km until you arrive in the village of Sidi Yahya Zaer. At Sidi Yahya take a right turn, staying on the R403, and follow the road for 15 km. A few hundred meters after a white monument is a track to the right leading to a car park. This area is very good for both the Francolin and the Tchagra.