I spent my happy morning today enjoying the birdlife attracted to the Henderson, Nevada, sewage treatment plant. Michael and Diane Porter of birdwatching.com picked me up in their rental car at my cheesy casino hotel, and we headed (blessedly) out of town to the birdiest place for miles around.
The huge sewage lagoons of the Henderson facility shine like a beacon to birds and wildlife looking for water in this harsh desert. Several years ago, when I was facing a weekend in Vegas, I found this birding hotspot on the Internet and ever since, it has acted like the anti-venom for the time I've had to spend here in Sin City. A few hours birding at the Henderson Poo Tumbler and I'm good to go.
This is one of the few places on Earth where birders are accorded the special treatment that we deserve. And how fitting, since this is a treatment facility. When you approach the heavily fortified gate of the Henderson Sewage Treatment Plant, you are faced with lots of signage that warns "Absolutely No Admittance", and "No Trespassing."
Why so secure? Well, you can imagine that Las Vegas has a vested interest in making sure its highest-volume outflow is handled properly. Right next to these warning signs, near a telephone keypad, it says "Bird Watchers Press #100 and Wait for Answer." When you do this, a perky voice says "Hello?" And you say "Yes we'd like to go birding!" "Oh, great! I'll open the gate for you!" comes the answer. And the giant steel gate begins to slide off to the left, clearing your entry path.
Once inside, you must sign in at the visitors' center, where you can also peruse the list of recent sightings, get a map and checklist, and buy any number of souvenirs.
It was a beautiful morning, clear and cool with a light westerly breeze. The sounds of verdins and Gambel's quail greeted us before we'd slammed the car doors. I was SO happy that I chose to get some birding in before the SHOT Show. It seemed the civilized thing to do.
We walked a couple of miles around the settling ponds, occasionally trading sightings and info with other bird watchers. Mostly we just enjoyed bird after bird, Some of them were ones we knew well from back East (the Porters hail from Iowa)--osprey, loads of ducks, especially shovelers, song sparrows, Lincoln's sparrows, white-crowned sparrows. Other species were more exciting for us non-Westerners, including Say's and black phoebes, crissal thrashers, Abert's towhee, and the aforementioned Gambel's quail. We ended the morning with a little better than 40 species.