Finding Beauty at a Sewage Treatment Plant

“Lagunas de Chametla” — sounds like a romantic getaway doesn’t it? If one peruses the Baja California Peninsula regional reports in North American Birds, this site is referenced often. Many rare birds have been discovered here, including the male Ruff that Steve Mlodinow and I re-found on 12 January. This bird, which first wintered locally in 2006-2007, has now returned three years running. Located in Chametla, a small suburb of La Paz, Baja California Sur (B.C.S.), Mexico, the “lagunas” are actually a series of filtering ponds that process the area’s wastewater, hardly a tourist destination unless you’re a birder.

If one can endure the odor, wastewater treatment facilities, particularly the less modern settling pond variety, offer excellent birding. The insects and other invertebrates that inhabit sewage ponds provide a diverse and teeming prey base for herons, egrets, waterfowl, shorebirds, and gulls. Such sites often provide wonderful opportunities to study and photograph waterbirds from close range while they are busy gorging themselves on the local delicacies. During a recent trip to B.C.S., I captured some exceptionally detailed and artistic images (see below) at the Lagunas de Chametla.

This image captures the stunning black, white, and gray wing pattern of a 1st cycle Bonaparte’s Gull as it feeds at Lagunas de Chametla on 12 January 2009.

This Black-necked Stilt comes in for a graceful landing near the inflow pipe to one of the main ponds at Lagunas de Chametla on 12 January 2009. It was one of many stilts, Laughing Gulls, Bonaparte’s Gulls, Marbled Godwits, and other smaller waders that were taking advantage of the fresh nutrients being pumped into this pond.

The waterbirds and shorebirds weren’t the only ones finding meals at the Lagunas de Chametla. This female Peregrine Falcon took out a Laughing Gull on 12 January 2009, but left the severely injured gull to flounder in the sludge after knocking it out of the air. Apparently the condiments coating the gull were not to this falcon’s liking.

This White Ibis was incredibly approachable as it probed the sludge of the Lagunas de Chametla on 12 January 2009.

The Lagunas de Chametla offer excellent opportunities to hone your peep ID skills. This textbook basic-plumaged Western Sandpiper was one of dozens of Western and Least Sandpipers feeding along the muddy margins of the ponds on 12 January 2009. (All photos taken by David Irons using a Canon EOS XSI 450D camera and an EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens)


Well, you did it! I couldn’t be peordur of you. Don’t worry about anything, just think about getting your book started and reflect on all God has given you over the past year. The healing, the marvelous experiences, the great friends, the girl! What a year you have had! I can’t wait to read your book, so get a writtin’! I love reading all the comments you get. You have so many people following you and pulling for you. You are already soaring, you just haven’t realized it yet. Love you so much. Congratulations on finishing.

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