Rossitten was a small town in East Prussia, located on the long barrier peninsula, the Courish Spit, that separates the mainland from the southeastern Baltic Sea. Rossitten is also the namesake for a street in the town of Möggingen in southwestern Germany, and the connection between these two distant locations is ornithological. In 1901, the world's first ornithological fieldobservation station was created in Rossitten, but the station's staff were transplanted to Möggingen and the Vogelwarte Radolfzell created in the aftermath of World War II. Although German ornithological research ceased on the Courish spit, the long and rich tradition of ornithology has continued at what is now known as the Rybachy Biological Station in the Russian region of Kaliningrad. Unfortunately for non-Russian speakers, most of this station's research has been inaccessible. Thus, for many ornithologists, Payevsky's Songbird Demography presents a new window into decades of field studies at a site of major European migrant passage.
This book largely uses data from the Rybachy station to explore a series of topics in avian demography, ranging from descriptions of long-term population trends to local site fidelity of birds. The data for most of these explorations come from captures of birds in a few large “Rybachy-type” funnel traps. With openings oriented appropriately, these traps are able to passively capture large numbers of migrating birds as they travel at ≤12 m above the ground. The data from these traps are the richest resource presented in the book. However, to my mind, the diversity of uses of these data is also symptomatic of the book's greatest weakness: unclear focus. These data are applied to so many topics that none is discussed fully enough for me to find the presentation satisfactory. Additionally, some of these topics stretch the data considerably, such as the aforementioned examination of site fidelity, for which data from two to four trap locations are used to make inferences about relative fidelity and breeding-season movements of birds.
In place of brief coverage of a multitude of topics, I would have liked to have seen a narrower set of topics that highlighted the strengths of the Rybachy traps' data. More text could have been used to provide thorough summaries of the background that motivated each research topic; without such summaries, readers may find it difficult to understand the context for each line of research. I also would have enjoyed reading clearer descriptions of how the Russian studies fit within the global development of each research topic. Instead, the reader is left trying to infer this on the basis of publication dates of cited papers, among which the non-Russian citations, at least, are clearly a very limited subset of the literature on each topic.
This book provides English-speaking readers with an introduction to roughly half a century's Russian research in avian ecology along the eastern Baltic coast. However, firmly fitting this research into the broader context of avian demography is still largely a task for future publications.