You heard it here first!
Michael is playing around with this idea: Is it possible to see 800 species in the ABA area in just 8 years?
800 species is the Holy Grail for ABA area listers. Only a handful of people ever reach this milestone. It usually takes them decades of chasing rarities to do it. But, with the tremendous advancements in internet birding and bird finding on the web, it might be possible to do it in far less time. (BTW, the choice of eight years is completely arbitrary and was made simply because it sounds nice with 800 species!)
If you look at recent Big Years for participants who have covered the entire ABA area you find that their lists total 725 or more species, some almost reaching 750. That leaves just 60 to 75 more species to find to reach 800. Is it likely that 60 to 75 more species would make an appearance in the ABA area over an additional seven years? That’s 9 to 11 more species per year.
Or … There are 675 regularly occurring species in North America. If you make a concerted effort to see each of these it is fairly easy to do so, given enough time. Would it be likely that you could find 125 more species, about 16 per year, over the course of eight years?
Also … During our recent Lower 48 Big Year, we saw over 650 species. We kept track of other species that we could have seen if we had been luckier, more diligent, or had had more money to travel more widely. We also kept an eye on what was happening in Alaska during the year, even though we had decided not to go beyond the lower 48. We estimated that we could have seen almost 100 more species in 2012 if everything had worked out perfectly and we had visited Alaska. In 2013, we have watched reports of several more species, such as the first-ever ABA record of the wood rail in NM. Given all of that, we could have had a total of over 750 species in just two years. Would there be 50 more unique species, 8+ per year, over the next six years?
Reports on eBird, NARBA and other web sites hint at the answer to these questions. It is indeed possible for enough rarities to show up each year to reach 800 in 8 years. But it is decidedly not likely that a person would be lucky enough and mobile enough to get to them all in the short time that they would probably spend in the ABA area. For example, right now on the NARBA website there are 16 species of rare birds listed that we did not see during our Big Year. But to see them all would require about 20,000 miles of travel to get from place to place and back home.