This week I went birding at the Western Treatment Plant in Werribee, Victoria, Australia. This is the largest sewage treatment plant in Australia and is a premiere birding site. A whopping 280 species have been recorded here and it is achievable to see 100+ species in one day.
Read on to hear about my experience birding at this fantastic location + I provide some practical tips to help you plan your own visit. And yes, you can sometimes smell the sewage, but it was nowhere near as bad as you might imagine!
How Big is the Western Treatment Plant?
This is the BIGGEST wetland birding area I have ever visited. Some of you might remember my trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It was similar to this experience, but 10 times the size.
The Western Treatment Plan is 10,500 hectare. That number meant nothing to me, so I’ve included this map to give a visual indication of the size:
Each of those rectangles of water is full of different water bird species!
Given the size of this place and the fact that it is permit access only (overseas visitors can get a one day pass from the Werribee Zoo), I was advised to go with a local guide. I used Birding Pal and found an experienced birder and his partner to take me. Aside from a $10 annual fee, the guides on this site are free!
Western Treatment Plant Birding Overview
After meeting my guides at a coffee shop, I jumped into their 4WD vehicle and off we went. They immediately began calling out bird species and advised me to keep a list so I wouldn’t lose track.
Given the size of the Western Treatment Plant, you spend a lot of your time driving rather than walking. Staying inside the car also allows you to get closer to birds. I had to quickly master the skill of photographing from the car windows!
You should also be aware that there are no facilities at the Western Treatment Plant. Be prepared to find some bushes.
Western Treatment Plant Birding Highlights
The entire day was action-packed with non-stop birds! Although for seasoned Western Treatment Plant birders, there were some disappointments (like the water level being so high that we just couldn’t find certain species), for a newbie like me it was an unreal day of birding. We saw 85 species over the day!
Here are the highlights:
We saw 11 duck species, including these favourites:
Raptors are another Western Treatment Plant birding highlight – they are everywhere here. I would like to go back and devote more time to capturing raptor flight shots (difficult to do from the car!).
We saw 6 raptor species and my favourite of the day was this perching White-bellied Sea Eagle.
Although most people visit the Western Treatment Plant for the waterbirds, I also enjoyed seeing the diversity of grassland species.
We saw 5 species in this family including 2 highlights: Black-tailed Native-hen and Australian Spotted Crake.
We had difficulty finding shorebirds as the water levels were so high everywhere. We finally came across a group of Curlew Sandpipers, Red Knots, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and Red-necked Stints at the end of the day on a small sandy tidal flat.
Spoonbills, Egrets and Cranes
The highlight of the day was seeing two groups of Brolga! My guides told me this was a “good” sighting for the Western Treatment Plant (and a lifer for me!).
I also enjoyed adding two Spoonbill species to my list as well as a Little Egret.
Other Western Treatment Plant Birding Moments
All in all, I really enjoyed my experience birding the Western Treatment Plant. It’s not a place you bird once and feel like you’ve seen it all. My guides did a fantastic job showing me as much of the area and as many bird species as possible. Next time I’m back in Melbourne, I will be revisiting this spot! It’s a must for anyone birding in the Melbourne area.
Click here for the trip list.