Friday, 13 December 2019

Like Buses...

Following recent Sibe Chiff success I have been poring over local maps in search of sewage works. My intention, obviously, is to visit any I find, and see if they are as attractive to small insectivorous birdies as the glorious WTW at Colyton. Back in my busy and active days on the Seaton patch I would occasionally visit the sewage works at Branscombe, Kilmington and Whitford, and am well aware of their pulling power. I certainly remember one or two pale and interesting Chiffs at Kilmington but viewing there was difficult, with birds usually quite distant, so nothing ever came of them. Branscombe was pretty good for Firecrests, and I recall it had Yellow-browed Warbler once or twice, though I never managed to see any of the latter myself. Whitford was too small and isolated to get excited about, and I only ever managed a few Chiffs on visits there.

Well, I am struggling to find any sewage works local to me in Bridport. I can think of one that I've cycled past a few times, over near Puncknowle, so shall give it a go at some point. But surely there must be one or two nearer than that? You'd think so, but thus far I've drawn a blank. Until today...

On WhatsApp, a message from @CharmouthBirder popped up. Two Firecrests at Chideock WRC. [At this point I'll just mention in passing that yes, you are dead right, sewage works don't seem to be called sewage works these days. It'll be Wastewater Treatment Works, as in the Colyton plant, or Water Recycling Centre, as we euphemistically have here at Chideock. No-one is fooled. The superb smell gives the game away every time] Along with the message was a little map, at which point I realised I have walked past this very place, probably within 100m, without knowing it was there. I immediately expressed interest, whereupon Richard mentioned that he'd had a brief view of a Chiff that was 'pretty washed out' and that it 'looked interesting'. Which of course it would!

Suddenly I realised that lunchtime was upon me!

Buried in the middle of nowhere is this...

Chideock Water Recycling Centre. Yes, recycling. You cardboard, bottles, tins, etc, but much smellier.

Access around the place is very good, and there are hedges, trees and brambly spots for the birds to feed in, as well as the filter beds themselves. I didn't really make an effort to count anything, but there must have been 15+ Chiffs, at least 2 Treecreepers, 6+ Long-tailed Tits and a handful of Goldcrests. More excitingly, I quite rapidly latched on to a pale Chiffy. It was feeding along a fence line, right across the other side of the works from where I was standing, but by the time I got round there it had vanished. Eventually I spotted it again, feeding on the filter bed gravel. Rather distant, but I snatched a quick and rubbish photo before it disappeared again. I only include the image here because it conveys the impression you get when first clapping eyes on one of these little beauties...

Compare pale job on the left with standard collybita on the right

Finally it appeared once again on the filter bed, and though I couldn't get closer than about 40 or 50m, the bird was visible long enough to get a few record shots. None is worth posting alone, so have this collage instead...

Siberian Chiffchaff, Chideock WRC

To my eye it is pretty much the spitting image of the Colyton WTW bird, and if that one is okay to label 'Siberian' then I'm happy to do likewise here. I shall definitely visit again, and hopefully get some better shots.

I still hadn't stumbled upon either of the Firecrests Richard had seen earlier, and then, just as I was contemplating heading off at about 15:30, one appeared in the trees adjacent to the main entrance gate. Superb! They really are such little jewels.

I guess there is a lesson to be drawn from the last couple of NQS posts. A while back I was banging on about The Road Less Travelled, and I think it's fair to say that most small sewage treatment plants would slot into this category. There must be quite a few tucked away in remote little spots around the country, and at this time of year any one of them might be harbouring Firecrests, a smart little Sibe Chiff, or even Yellow-browed Warbler, Dusky Warbler or...dare I say it?...better. Got to be worth a look...


  1. Some of my happiest birding moments have been at Old Woking Sewage Farm (OWSF) not too far from Guidford, Surrey. Always had the place to myself (apart from the twice I was escorted offsite by workers) and NEVER did it go down in my notebook as OWWTW or OWWRC. It's a sewage farm, a place where they grow sewage, I do believe...

    1. 'Sewage Farm Memories' has got to be a blog post title some day. I have them too.

    2. The true and false of this environment.
      "Much about"? 'Nah. It's a shit place for birds'.