The Western Treatment Plant, also known as ‘The Sewage Farm’ is one of my favourite places in Victoria, and it’s not because of the sewage. In fact, a lot of why I like this place is not even because it’s one of the richest birding spots in the south. I like this place because it’s quiet. Although popular with birders, it has fewer visitors than the average park and most of the time it has no people at all. And even when there are a few, birders mostly keep to themselves anyway.
The Western Treatment Plant has great scenery. You can sit by the ocean and appreciate the vast expanse of succulents and scrub, and if you’re there early in the summer you can see the huge purple thistles. Yes, this is indeed a peaceful place, and that’s probably why there are so many birds. In my mind there are three main types of birds around: the waterbirds, the raptors, and the skulking grass birds.
The main birding attraction is probably the waterbirds such as the migratory shorebirds in the summer. There are hundreds of Red-necked Stints, and if you’ve got time to look you could probably identify several more in their feeding frenzy. Also present mostly in the summer are the difficult-to-identify terns. I suggest taking lots of pictures and examing them at home.
In the ponds making up Lake Borrie, there are ducks and grebes, which can number in the thousands in the summer. Most of the southern species can be found here. Some people are lucky to spot Freckled Duck, but we’ve never done so. The most common seem to be Australian Shelduck, Chestnut Teal, Grey Teal, Pacific Black Duck, Hardhead, and Black Swan. Also common near the end of the summer is the Pink-eared Duck. Less common species are Australian Shoveler, Blue-billed Duck and Musk Duck, the latter of which is actually not too hard to see half the time we’re here. In the summer near Gate 6 we’ve spotted Cape Barren Goose regularly far off in the fields. Other wetland birds include various egrets, herons, spoonbills, Red-necked Avocet, Pied Stilt, oystercatchers and Australian Pelican.
What about those skulking grass birds? Keep an eye out for them all around the plant. The T-Section Lagoon is a good place for them. Common ones include Golden-headed Cisticola, White-fronted Chat, Australasian Pipit, Little Grassbird, Eurasian Skylark, White-browed Scrubwren, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, and Zebra Finch. Lately it seems a good place for Zebra Finch is just to the left after you enter the gate at Paradise Rd and Point Wilson Rd.
The T-section lagoon is also great for rails. The Purple Swamphen and Eurasian Coot are everywhere in the area. However, you may notice that in the T-section lagoons, all the ponds are numbered. It seems #4 is famous for the more secretive rails. On our last visit there we saw Baillon’s Crake. Just next door at the Western Lagoon near the gate we have also observed Australian Spotted Crake in the past.
The varied habitat with wide open fields and farmland make a great place for raptors like Swamp Harrier, Black-shouldered Kite, Whistling Kite, Nankeen Kestrel and Black Kite. Sometimes there is one in the trees along Paradise Road. Much of the time they’re in the grass and they’ll just flush and fly away if you don’t spot them. We usually don’t. We have found that evenings are best for raptors, where more of them seem content to sit on posts.
Last but not least there are Welcome Swallows by the hundreds. The Western Treatment Plant is one place where you can actually see them land on fences, unlike some places in Melbourne where they just fly around. You can see their cool mud nests too, if you look hard enough.
The Western Treatment Plant is a great place to observe and appreciate many different types of birds. It’s also located very close to Serendip Sanctuary and You Yangs Regional Park. So if you’re not exhausted from all those weltand species, you can try the more forested ones too, though You Yangs is probably best in the late autumn to spring when the eucalypts are flowering, because in the summer it’s so hot and baked that it’s not easy to see much.