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Where to go wildlife-watching in Morocco

The Moroccan wilderness is a haven for wildlife-lovers. Venture out of the city and into the wilderness for the chance to glimpse delicate finches, golden wolves and rare, ‘bone-crushing’ birds of prey.

Merja Zerga National Park is a protected wetland on the coast between Tangier and Rabat that's home to a variety of birdlife.

Photograph by Getty Images
Published 13 Apr 2022, 12:00 BST

1. Witness Morocco’s Great Migration

When visiting northern Morocco in spring or autumn, it’s well worth bringing your binoculars. Every year, the sky fills with birds. The region is an important migration corridor for Western Palearctic species such as bee-eaters, storks, cuckoos and nightingales, which breed in Europe and Russia, and once summer is over, fly across the Strait of Gibraltar to Africa. Some travel vast distances, most notably Arctic terns, which sometimes pause in Morocco on their epic annual return trip from the Arctic Circle to Antarctica’s Weddell Sea. Good places to look include the scattered marshes and lagoons near Larache, Moulay Bousselham and Kenitra, southwest of Tangier.

2. See the birds of the blue lagoon

Merja Zerga National Park, a protected wetland on the coast between Tangier and Rabat, is one of Morocco’s most extensive habitats of its kind, and a North African birding hotspot. Caspian terns, oystercatchers and golden plovers throng here all year round, but the resident species that really sets hearts aflutter is the endangered Moroccan marsh owl: the birds are sometimes seen skimming over the grassy banks of the Merja Zerga lagoon, hunting for small rodents. Partly due to climate change, the park teems with birds all winter, too, with high numbers of migrants, including flamingos, ducks, coots and avocets lingering here rather than continuing further south.

3. Spot larks and finches in ksar country

There are far more birds in the arid Drâa-Tafilalet region south of the High Atlas than you might imagine, although identifying them all can be tricky; much like the region’s ksars (villages built of earth and stone), they tend to blend into the background. Classic LBJs (‘little brown jobs’) to seek out include desert larks, trumpeter finches and their very pretty, high-altitude cousins, African crimson-winged finches. With the Ounila River at its feet, the World Heritage-listed ksar of Aït Benhaddou offers great birding opportunities: white-crowned wheatears are often found here, along with warblers, swallows, martins and other seasonal visitors.

4. Search for raptors and vultures

Birds of prey soar overhead in many parts of Morocco, lending extra drama to monumental landscapes such as the Rif Mountains, home to several species of vulture, and Todra Gorge, where Bonelli’s eagles are sometimes glimpsed. The High Atlas is a stronghold for falcons and bearded vultures (also called lammergeiers) — hulking scavengers that feast on bone marrow. Known locally as ‘bone-crushers’, these birds bite or drop animal bones to smash them open. With luck, you may even see golden eagles in the mountains, too, gliding on the highest thermals. Meanwhile, the Oued Massa lagoon, part of a protected nature reserve south of Agadir, is good for ospreys and marsh harriers.

5. Discover snakes and lizards

Land animals tend to be far harder to spot than birds in Morocco, but the likes of Barbary macaques, golden wolves and even sand cats can be found if you know where to look. Reptiles are an easier target. Naturetrek offers the chance to venture into the wilds of southern Morocco with an expert herpetologist, where you could find puff adders, Spanish terrapins and more unusual species such as the agile desert horned viper and Moroccan spiny-tailed lizard. After dark, the night shift takes over — this is your chance to see geckos and Egyptian cobras.

Published in the April 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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