Bird and Memory of the Week – Wilson’s Plover

My second Bird and Memory of the Week is the Wilson’s Plover Charadrius wilsonia. It is a small plover that breeds on the East Coast of the U.S. and migrates to Brazil. There is also a population on the West coast of Mexico and it is rarely seen on the west coast north of that. However, in early October 2012 it made a rare appearance in Washington and I was fortunate to see it at Grayland Beach State Park. MANY years earlier I had seen one at High Island in Texas – a place famous for migration fallouts in the Spring – which indeed we experienced that day – April 25, 1978 – another story for another time.

Wilson’s Plover at Grayland State Park

Wilson's Plover

The Wilson’s Plover is closely related to two plovers very common in Washington: Killdeer and Semipalmated Plover as well as the less common Snowy Plover all of which are members of the Charadrius plover group. Another East coast member is the Piping Plover.

There are many Charadrius plovers around the world including: Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers (the latter formerly known as Mongolian Plover), Three and Double Banded Plovers, Collared Plover, White Fronted Plover, Ringed and Little Ringed Plover, Caspian Plover, Mountain Plover, Long Billed Plover, Oriental Plover, Dotterel and Kittzlitz’s Plover. I have been fortunate to have seen many. Missing are Mountain, Caspian, Oriental and Long Billed Plovers and Dotterel. I expect to see the Mountain Plover on a trip to Colorado this April. Hopefully I will see the others some day as well.

Some of my other Charadrius Plovers:

White Fronted Plover – South Africa October 2014 (Race of Lesser Sand)

White Fronted Plover (2)

Piping Plover – Maine June 2015

Piping Plover

Lesser Sand (Mongolian) Plover – Ocean Shores


Kittzlitz’s Plover South Africa October 2014

Kittlitz's Plover

Killdeer Edmonds Marsh

Killdeer 1


Grayland Beach State Park is in Pacific County just south of Midway Beach, the southern end of Grays Harbor County, which is between Westport and Tokeland, a stretch of land on the Pacific Ocean Coast that is prime birding territory and also includes Bottle Beach which I am sure will have a blog post of its own someday.  Back to our bird of the day.  The Wilson’s Plover had first been seen and reported on October 6th or 7th – perhaps by Chuck Jensen.  I was just getting into “listing” but had a good year list in Washington for (323 was a Boreal Owl at Salmo Pass for my birthday on October 5th).  Every new bird was thus precious and this would also be a new life bird for Washington so I had to go.


There will be many “chase” references in these blogs and I will repeat Rules 1 and 2:  Rule 1 – Go now; Rule 2 – no whining if you do not follow Rule 1.  On each chase part of the excitement/stress is wondering “Will it still be there?”.  Especially if you follow Rule 1, more times than you might expect it is still there. There was some additional stress that day as I had first stopped at Nisqually NWR and “dipped” (listers term for “failed to find”) on a Northern Saw Whet Owl and had birded Bottle Beach in a receding tide (incoming is preferred) and had fewer than hoped for birds although there was a single American Golden Plover.

So I did not arrive at Grayland until noon and as I parked and walked out to the area where the plover had been seen, there was definitely some excitement/stress going on.  And when the bird was NOT seen where it was supposed to be, the stress started to dominate.  But indeed patience is often rewarded and a little more searching and maybe some change in the tide and it finally made an appearance.  “And look at that bill!!”  That is THE field mark of importance for Wilson’s Plover – a very thick dark bill that is way different than the other Charadrius plovers we see in the U.S.  And this is the point where the stress leaves, the excitement is great and there is a definite surge of adrenalin – the “high” of a Lifer or FOY (First of Year).

I am sure you may have guessed that there are other birds that can be found at Grayland.  The truth is that sometimes on a chase, birders find the target and pay little or no attention to other birds in the area.  I have done that at some less pleasant spots, but Grayland is better than that and I now hoped to find some Snowy Plovers and this is one of the best places in the state to do so.  They proved to be easy and I saw at least a dozen.

Snowy Plover – Grayland State Park Beach

Snowy Plove 1

Some Semipalmated Plovers made it a three Charadrius plover day and there may have been a Killdeer somewhere that I just simply did not note for number 4..

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover2

So it had been a good day.  Chase days are always fun…successful chase days – much more so!

A word about bird names:  the Wilson’s Plover is named after Alexander Wilson – a Scottish Poet and Naturalist who is generally considered the greatest American Ornithologist before Audubon.  His impact on American birding is evidenced by many other species bearing his name:  Wilson’s Phalarope, Wilson’s Snipe and Wilson’s Warbler all found in Washington as well as the Wilson’s Storm Petrel.

Wilson’s Phalarope

Wilson's Phalarope2

Wilson’s Snipe

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Warbler

Wilson's Warbler

Wilson’s Storm Petrel

Wilson's Storm Petrel

Closing with a Big Thank You to Alexander Wilson… R.I.P.

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