Bennington Lake sighting has birders chirping

A Wilson’s plover spotted at Bennington Lake.

A Wilson’s plover spotted at Bennington Lake. Courtesy photo by Mike Denny



A Wilson’s plover spotted at Bennington Lake.

WALLA WALLA — A shore bird never before seen in Washington state has made its debut in Walla Walla at Bennington Lake over the weekend.

There is no reason that a Wilson’s plover would ever show up in Walla Walla County. But there it was, chasing flies and other insects over the surface on a mud flat Sunday morning.

This is the very first record in the west of a Wilson’s plover in the nation’s interior east of the Cascades — hundreds of miles from the coast. The Wilson’s plover is a species largely fixed to coastal beaches and estuaries along the Gulf of Mexico as well as a small population along the Sea of Cortez in Mexico.

There is one record for the southern Oregon coast and a handful of records for the California coast.

My wife MerryLynn and I spotted the plover while we were out birding around Bennington Lake. The lake’s water level has not receded much over the summer so what shoreline mudflats that are present are limited.

Slowly we walked along the western shoreline on the lower trail listening for and looking at song birds. We saw catbirds, western wood-pewees, western tanagers, yellow warblers and a clay-colored sparrow, which was an unusual species to find, though not unexpected during fall migration.

We rounded the end of the ditch and crossed the canal and worked our way along the eastern shoreline. It was here that we came to a muddy cove with several species of shorebirds. This is when we noticed a small plover that was about 60 feet away, but quickly feeding its way towards us.

It had unusually erratic foraging pattern as it chased flies and other insects over the surface of the mud. It rapidly cut 90-degree corners from side to side as it snapped its bill in an effort to catch bugs.

We started taking photographs as this odd little plover came nearer and nearer to us. As we looked it over it became clear that this was not a species we see regularly in Washington state. It’s big head and bill did not fit its small body.

MerryLynn now called friends and soon we were joined by Ginger Shoemake who brought just the right bird books to positively identify this plover as a Wilson’s plover. I knew that this species had never been seen in Washington state.

To have this plover show up here at Bennington Lake is a huge treat and completely unexpected. It’s like finding a gold coin dropped from a plane at 30,000 feet.

This very rare bird has started a tourist rush to Walla Walla. If you are interested in seeing it, keep the dog at home, grab your binoculars and join others who have come from all over the Pacific Northwest to see this plover.

Remember that this shorebird is protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Please do not flush it or get too close. It needs its rest and feeding time.

Mike Denny is president of the Blue Mountain Audubon Society. He can be reached at


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