Werribee Western Treatment Plant

Possibly the strangest thing about birders is how much we like sewage farms; there’s nothing like a trip to the poop ponds to bring a smile to my face.

The Western Treatment Plant in Werribee treats just over 50% of the sewage generated by Melbournians and common sense says it’s a place to avoid like the plague but really it’s one of the best birding locations in Australia; I applied for a permit immediately after my first visit. Last week a friend and I made a spur-of-the-moment trip, the migratory waders hadn’t returned but we saw about 50 bird species during the afternoon. We were greeted at the gate by Flame Robins, teased by Golden-headed Cisticolas in beautiful light but too distant for my lens, we watched comical Black-tailed Native-hens darting across a ford, saw numerous waterbirds and were treated to many sightings of raptors including Nankeen Kestrels, Australian Black-shouldered Kites, Whistling Kite, Little Eagle, Brown Falcon, Swamp Harrier and Spotted Harrier.

 The Nankeen Kestrel looked stunning with the late afternoon sunlight accentuating its rufous feathers and the yellow of its eye-ring, cere and legs. I like the heart-shaped black patches and delicate fringing on its feathers and the obvious strength of its feet. Kestrels eat insects, reptiles, small mammals and small birds. They hunt from perches, or by hovering and dropping down in stages to capture prey, which they sometimes eat on the wing.

 Nankeen KestrelNankeen Kestrel (Falco cenchroides)Nankeen Kestrel (Falco cenchroides)
Canon 7D, 100-400mm L IS USM, 1/640, f/7.1, 1/3 EV, ISO 100, focal length 400mm


Kestrels are well-known for the way they fan their tails to control their position when hovering. The dark band at the end of the tail is a helpful diagnostic in the field. A little of the kestrel’s streaked underparts are visible in this shot.


Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus axillaris)
Canon 7D, 100-400mm L IS USM, 1/400, f/8, ISO 200, focal length 370mm


Spring has sprung! These Black-shouldered Kites were perched on opposite ends of a gnarled tree and I was wondering which was male and which female when they answered my question. The stormy liaison was over in a moment and hopefully there will be between two and five red-eyed, yellow-legged hatchlings in the coming weeks.


Overflow at the Western Treatment Plant, Werribee
Canon 7D, EF 17-40mm, 1/800, f/5.6, ISO 200, focal length 17mm


The sun was low in the sky and we were supposed to have left for home an hour earlier when my friend detoured along a track to show me this overflow drain. He kindly loaned me his wide-angle lens and I knelt at the edge of the lagoon to take this otherworldly image. I like the way the clouds seem to point to the drain, emphasising how mysterious it looks, and the lighting was just lovely.

As I was creating this post I found myself singing John Denver’s “Some days are diamonds, some days are stone …” then, being a birder, the diamonds became Diamond Firetails and Doves, and the stones became Bush Stone-curlews. Now I’m inventing lyrics: “Some days are tropicbirds, some days are gulls; some days are eagles, some days are crows …’ ♪ ♫ ♩ ♬

Happy birding, Kim



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