The coastal marshes around the River Ems and the Dollard Bay in NW Germany are a core stopover
site for migratory and wintering European Golden Plovers. Numbers, spatial distribution,
phenology and habitat selection were studied in a 415 km2 agricultural area (30% SPA), mainly
constisting of meadows and arable fields. Weekly counts were carried out from mid October to
mid April from 1996/97 to 2008/09. All flocks were plotted on a map to allow a detailed analysis
of spatial distribution and habitat selection.
Highest numbers of Golden Plovers were usually seen during autumn migration (notably
November), with up to 41,000 individuals in autumn 2007. Moreover, there was a significant
increase in maximum numbers in autumn from 1996/97 onwards, mainly due to a delayed departure
in late autumn, as a result of mild weather. Wintering numbers were small but increased
significantly over the same period, probably as a result of the prolonged series of mild winters.
Numbers in spring were generally lower than in autumn and did not show a significant trend.
During the investigations, about half of the study area was used by Golden Plovers. Highest
numbers were found in the lowest parts of the area that consist of wet meadows. Arable fields
behind the seawall of the Dollard Bay were only irregularly used, whilst peat-soil areas in the
southern part of the study area were not visited at all. A habitat selection analysis using Jacobs’
Index revealed that in all parts of the year meadows were the preferred habitat. According to our
observations this mainly reflects feeding birds. Only in spring, river forelands and salt marshes
were additionally preferred, also implicating a more coastal distribution, as seen at other sites.
Arable fields within the study area (stubble fields, autumn-sown cereals, harvest remains) were
not part of preferred habitat at all.