In praise of sewage lagoons

March 2, 2016 Joel Jorgensen

Birders go places to find and see birds.  It doesn’t really matter what or where the place is, as long as there is the potential to find and see good birds.   Most serious birders know sewage lagoons are good, and sometimes great, places to find birds.   In fact,  some sewage lagoons are nationally or even internationally famous in birding circles because they have a track record of producing rarities.  To non-birders, though, the idea of heading to a sewage lagoon for a good time may seem a bit off.  But think about it, sewage lagoons are relatively shallow water bodies with an excellent nutrient base (which results in food) that are relatively tranquil since they are mostly avoided by humans (including during hunting seasons).  This time of year, when waterfowl numbers are increasing in our area, sewage lagoons can harbor excellent duck numbers and diversity.  Later in spring, they can be excellent sites to find grebes, shorebirds and terns.

For many Nebraska birders, county listing (trying to see as many species in each specific county) adds to the enjoyment of birding.   Some Nebraska counties have abundant wetlands where waterfowl and waterbirds can be found with ease.  Other counties, though, may lack lakes and marshes.  For those counties, municipal sewage lagoons may be the only game in town which provide opportunities to add certain aquatic species to a county list.  For example, the Tecumseh sewage lagoons along highway 50 are highly visible and are an excellent site to add waterbirds in Johnson County.  A few sewage lagoon photos from across Nebraska are below.

Tecumseh sewage lagoons
Tecumseh sewage lagoons
Oxford Sewage Lagoons
Oxford sewage lagoons with ducks
Blue Hill sewage lagoons with Lesser Scaup and Redheads
Buffleheads taking flight off a Nebraska sewage lagoon
I found this Long-tailed Duck, rare but regular species, on the Fairmont sewage lagoons on 4 April 2004. This is the only one I have ever seen in Fillmore County.
I found this Long-tailed Duck, a rare but regular species, on the Fairmont sewage lagoons on 4 April 2004. This is the only record for this species for Fillmore County.
Mew Gull
The Alma sewage lagoons lies in close proximity to Harlan County Lake, which makes it one of the state’s better sewage lagoons for big time rarities.   The bird on the far left in this photo is a Mew Gull, a West Coast species rarely observed in Nebraska.

It is important to remember that sewage lagoons are not public areas and most have signs clearly stating trespassing is prohibited.   Birding typically occurs from a roadside and sometimes standing on the top of vehicles is required to get a decent view.


Good birding!

Nongame Bird Program



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