Day 350: A Poo-Enriched Paradise

A sewage treatment facility is a hotspot for wetland birds.

December 16, 2015: Melbourne, Australia — After getting in to Melbourne around midnight last night, I was up and out the door with Richard Nowotny, a retired Australian doctor and excellent birder, at five this morning.

We picked up a field biologist named David Hollie, who is working on a research project with Superb Fairywrens, and the three of us spent most of the morning at the famous Werribee treatment plant southwest of Melbourne.

Werribee is apparently the world’s largest sewage treatment facility (no exaggeration). Its system of fields, wetlands, and impoundments covers about 26,000 acres along the waterfront and is completely dedicated to treating the poo of half of Melbourne’s four million people. This is an enriched paradise for wetland birds and nearly 300 species have been recorded at Werribee, which is among Australia’s top five birding hotspots. The place is so big you need a permit and a laminated map to navigate it. In several hours, we explored roughly a third of the main part of Werribee.

The bird highlight was a tiny Baillon’s Crake that, unusually for this species, waltzed in plain view for about 10 minutes at the edge of a reedbed. Nice! We sorted through massive flocks of waterfowl and shorebirds to find one Freckled Duck, one Fairy Tern, and a couple groups of Banded Stilts mixed with Red-necked Avocets. Birds were sprawled everywhere, all the time. “This is fun,” I said to Richard at lunch, which we ate as a picnic at the sewage ponds. “Instead of seeing just a few new birds, we’re seeing thousands of birds with a few new ones mixed in!”

After sunset this evening, Richard took me to see a unique show at the Melbourne waterfront. In the 1950s, a rocky pier was constructed here which, unexpectedly, was built of perfect-sized rocks for Little Penguin nests. The penguins colonized the pier within five years of its construction and, in the past 60 years, the colony has steadily increased in size. It has recently become quite a tourist attraction and a platform was built so that people can watch the penguins return to their nests at dusk.

As the sun went down over the harbor today, a couple hundred people were gathered to see the penguins. Like clockwork, the first one returned at 8:45 (the sun sets late this far south!). I marveled at all these people in summer dresses and board shorts. For once, I wasnt the weird one; the beach-goers were watching birds, too. 

New birds today: 29

Year list: 5863

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