Yesterday's mail brought the 2005 ABA Big Day Report and ABA List report--basically the equivalent of a birding orgy where everyone gets to compare whose bird list is bigger. Of course, the oversized lists at the top are always the most interesting. The biggest list in the ABA area (US Lower 48 plus Canada plus Alaska) is Macklin Smith at 873 species. An amazing 31 birders now report ABA lists higher than 800. When I was a kid, the ABA was still promoting the 600 Club as the birding big leagues for everyone who could manage to find 600 bird species north of Mexico. It wasn't that long ago that the first birder reported finding 700 species in North America. Of course, in the past 30 years, they've raised the bar.
The biggest world list reported was Tom Gullick with a whopping 8560 species, followed by Jon Hornbuckle with 8150 and Peter Kaestner with 8031. 17 birders report lists of over 7,000 species worldwide. That's some serious world travel.
So, what does all this mean? The sad fact is that for most serious list enhancement, the birder has to ask how big do you want it to be, how much are you willing to spend, and how much are you willing to be inconvenienced to get that big list. There isn't anything normal about these huge lists--they are a curiousity, if not a birding pathology. You don't get a size 86 DDD list without some serious cash and sacrificing of normal birding functioning. Just like the big cup size can chronically cripple your back, the personal lives of the big listers may become seriously distorted in their quest for the huge numbers of birds.
But while a huge list may not actually be much of an indicator of one's birding skills, it is an interesting curiousity--something to marvel at. Those big lists turn heads and provoke birding envy. While we might all fantasize about seeing that many birds, few of us can afford the cashola, time, or sacrifice of personal relationships that big listing can entail. So every year, most of us tune in to see what kind of list augmentations have been performed in the past year, shake our heads, and dream about someday getting to that far off place to see those birds that we can only dream about. But for a others, mostly near the top of the lists, the listing report is more than a birdwatching freak show--its a report card. You don't spend so much time and money on a big list without getting at least a little ego involved.