Winton Wastewater Plant, Jul 2021

[A stop on the West Queensland Trip Jul-Aug 2021 trip]

Birdwatching does take one to some strange places, not least sewerage ponds and wastewater treatment areas, such as the Winton Wastewater Treatment Plant in Winton, central Queensland. Like the Longreach Sewerage Ponds, it consists merely of a few rectangular lagoons, but attracts tons of birds, particularly ducks.

Also like the Longreach Sewerage Ponds, a sign says entry is prohibited. The wire fences at both locations are fairly dilapidated though, so the keen birder may or may not choose to break a few rules in search of quality bird encounters. And 226 checklists for eBird suggests plenty do. Maybe there is an arrangement where you can get permission to enter, I’m not sure.

Finding the location was easy: it is on the western side of the town, at the end of Vindex Street.

Anyway, I’m not sure what it is about ducks and water fowl at these locations, but just as in Longreach, the many ducks we encountered in the lagoons were pretty keen to get away from us as fast as possible, flying and swimming to the far end of the ponds. We were at least able to identify Pink-Eared and Pacific Black Ducks, Eurasian Coots, Grey Teals and Hardheads, while the grebes included Australasian Grebe and a couple of Hoary-Headeds too.

With the ducks sullenly keeping their distance, it seemed like a good time to try and capture photos of some of the many Fairy Martins gliding about above the water. Group Auto-Focus worked well here to track the birds with the relatively smooth background.

One of the things that kept us lingering was the high-pitched drawn out calls that I was certain were Little Grassbirds. I’d heard these calls before in Tasmania, and maybe elsewhere, but was never able to properly track one down. Would today be the day?

A thorough search of the reeds was required, and the first bird found was a Reed Warbler. It did not have the tell-tale flecks on its breast that we were looking for, but it provided entertainment with its hunting just above the water.

Further close examination of the reeds and much patience showed up a juvenile Dusky Moorhen, but in the exact same spot in the reeds a few minutes a similar bird showed up, but it was smaller and had little white spots: a Spotted Crake!!

This was the first crake sighting of any type for both of us, and even though the bird was visible for just a few seconds (they are apparently very good at hiding and skulking), it was still quite exciting. It is one thing to know that skilfully secretive birds like these exist, and another to see one in person.

Still no sign of the Little Grassbirds, though we could definitely here them. Walking very slowly between the reed-lined ponds flushed a few birds but they were far too quick to identify. Finally we gained a sight of not one, but two Little Grassbirds on the other side of the water of one of the narrower lagoons. The streaks on the breast were obvious (well, at least upon scrutinising the photos on the camera’s LCD display).

Not too much else was happening on the bird front, just a few kites above and some Swamphens wandering the paths between the lagoons. It might have been possible to explore to the north of the lagoon area (there is an eBird hotspot there called Winton Sewage Ponds, off Dump Rd), but we had to get to Cloncurry, so didn’t have enough time for it.

We enjoyed the hour we spent at the Winton Wastewater Treatment Plant. The water was lovely and blue, there was no smell, and there were plenty of interesting birds to enjoy. The sighting of a Spotted Crake, plus the Little Grassbirds, both lifer birds for us, was icing on the cake.

Hotspot: Winton Wastewater Treatment Plant (139 species)
Checklist for this visit (17 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Actually a kind of pleasant place to look for birds
+ We saw Reed Warblers, a Crake and Little Grassbirds!
– Have to cross a fence and ignore an Entry Prohibited sign to view the ponds
– Quite a small area

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