The 7k by 80 Project

At the end of 2021 I was 77 years old and had a birding life list of 5,729 using IOC taxonomy ( The last 18 months of Covid lockdown had seen only a very small increase in my life list; these being taxonomic splits and a very few new Australian birds. In that time a number of overseas trips had been deferred to 2022. Had they gone ahead I would have a life list of seen birds comfortably over 6,000. Festering at home with the limitations of the Covid pandemic led me to cogitate on what sort of life list I might aspire to in the future.

The first necessity for my life list to grow was for Covid lockdowns to finish and for travel to and from Australia to be freely permitted again. My sense was that a planned trip to New Zealand in March 2022 would go ahead under a trans-Tasman bubble but that the earliest for other travel would be mid-2022.

The second necessity is for me to remain alive and healthy. Statistically I have a life expectancy of another 10 years. I am physically fit and am able to, and do, exercise  vigorously. I do however have Parkinson’s Disease which suggests a decline in physical and mental capacity in the future, but there is no golden rule for the rate of this decline in any individual. In my case the medication I am on has stopped almost completely the right-hand tremor which was the most noticeable symptom of the disease for me. This position has been stable for at least 12 months. I am advised that the fact that this has happened without any increase in medication is indicative that my rate of decline is slow and that this is likely to continue for a few years at least. Obviously, it is also possible that any of us could die of an unanticipated accident or illness at any time. Given these factors I am backing myself to keep birding hard until I am 80.

Why stop at 80? I am not proposing to just stop birding when I get to 80, or when I get to a defined number of birds. I hope that I will be able to continue birding in a low key way until I fall off my twig (as the saying goes in birding circles). There are, however, practical difficulties in birding over the age of 80. It can be difficult to hire a car at that age. It can also be difficult, or very expensive, to get travel insurance. Ill health may intervene.

The question that then arises is, what is the best possible life list that I could accumulate by my 80th birthday in February 2024? The thousands are nice round numbers and one of those would make a nice target for a total life list. I chose to try for 7,000 seen birds on my life list by the time I turn 80 – That is the genesis of the 7k by 80 Project. While quite a modest number in these days of ‘power birding’ there is not much point in setting a goal (8,000) that I would never achieve, or one (6,000) so easy as to be no challenge. So what sort of program of birding would I need to undertake to reach that target of 7,000?

To put this project into perspective, after starting to bird seriously in 2002 I aspired to get my Australian list to 700 and I achieved that in 2007. I then started to enjoy overseas birding and soon discovered the pleasure of tracking down families around the world. I achieved a sighting of at least one member of all of the then recognised IOC families in 2019. When a new family was erected by the IOC in 2021 I had to see a Crested Jay Shrike in Sarawak to maintain my status.

I already had a program of trips booked for 2022 which was as follows:-

YearCompanyDatesCountryAreaDaysPossible new birds
2022Heritage Expeditions11 Mar-21 MarNew ZealandChatham Is.1011
2022Birdtour Asia1 Jun – 27 JunMalaysiaSabah & Sarawak2790
2022Birding Africa7 Aug – 27 AugAngolaAll20135
2022Rockjumper1 Sep – 7 SepSao Tome & PrincipeAll730
2022Rockjumper7 Sep – 25 SepGabonAll1888
2022Birdtour Asia26 Oct – 15 NovIndonesiaJava and Banda Sea Cruise2396

If this program is completed successfully I would be comfortably over 6,000 (6,179) at the end of 2022, leaving 821 species to see in 2023.

To determine the most productive trips for me in 2023 I first looked at my Wildlife Recorder program ( ) to find the countries with the most birds unseen by me and how many of those birds were endemic. What this showed was :-

CountryNew endemicsNew species
Democratic Republic of Congo 11367

Those countries with a lot of unseen birds are obviously good prospects. Even better are countries where a high proportion of those unseen birds are endemic. Looking in countries with high endemicity means that ones efforts are not diluted by seeing the same bird species in multiple countries.

I then looked at the trips offered in these countries looking to find trips that had the potential to yield a lot of new birds . These tended, not surprisingly, to be trips of longer duration, trips to tropical areas and trips that visited a significant number of different habitats. I sought out reports of trips that had been run each year over a number of years and had produced consistent results. By the nature of my enquiry I was channelled towards the larger birding companies who have been running for many years and publish trip lists.

I next produced from Wildlife Recorder a target list of the birds I had not seen from each of those countries that (a) had high numbers of new endemic birds and (b) the most rewarding trips . For each country I then compared that target list with the trip reports from that country. I produced for each possible trip the number of new birds I might have seen had I been on that trip. This methodology has a number of  inherent inaccuracies. One year’s trip report may give a false impression of the number of bird usually seen; the same trip run at different times of the year may give different results; I wouldn’t have seen all of the birds recorded on any trip. It is however, in my experience, a fair guide. The exact same birds won’t be seen every year, but the total number of birds seen is quite similar from year to year, in the absence of extreme circumstances such as bad weather, political upheavals or social disruption. Looking at reports of trips run in multiple years gives a good idea of consistency. I have sought to deal with the birds missed on a trip by discounting all estimates by 5%. I have found in the past that I usually miss considerably less than 5% of birds seen on a trip. I think the higher discount rate might be warranted by my aging, the rainforest environment of many of the trips and the lengthy nature of the trips contemplated.

Having calculated an estimate of the new birds that could possibly be seen on a large number of trips, I now had to exclude duplicate sightings of a bird on trips in different areas. Firstly I tried to ameliorate this problem by choosing trips in different geographical regions such as Asia, Africa, South America and Central America . It soon became clear that while this could help, there was such a great number of unseen birds in South and Central America and in Indonesia that I needed to do a number of trips in each of those regions. I thus needed some way of comparing trips against one another within each major geographical region. I did this by creating a spreadsheet of all unseen birds in South and Central America, in Asia and in Africa. I then inserted column by column the sightings from each of the best trips in each region. I was then able to use appropriate formulae to tell me the number of unique sightings over any 2 or more trips in each region thereby removing replications. I refer to the number of birds corrected by the removal of possible duplicates as the “Adjusted Number” for that trip.

Another obvious dilemma was to select trips that did not overlap in their timing, while allowing time for travel to and from the trip. In addition there needed to be R&R leave between trips! Another factor I wanted  to allow for was to have a few “easy” trips that my wife, Robin, might enjoy. This would both increase my pleasure and reduce a little the isolation she might feel from my frequent absences.

I selected the the following 2023 trips to investigate by the above process :-

YearCompanyDatesCountryAreaDaysAdjusted Number
2023BirdquestJan – FebBrazilNorth East28100
2023BirdquestJan – FebPhilippinesLuzon, Mindanao & Palawan22164
2023BirdquestFeb GhanaAll21100
2023BirdquestFeb – MarGuyana All2180
2023BirdquestMar Costa RicaAll24146
2023BirdquestMar MexicoSouthern23150
2023Birdtour AsiaMar- AprPhilippinesLuzon, Mindanao & Palawan21170
2023RockjumperMar – AprKenyaAll26143
2023BirdquestApr TanzaniaNorthern14118
2023BirdquestJun – JulUgandaAll2498
2023BirdquestJun – JulBrazilSouth West Amazonia119
2023Tropical Birding JulyCosta RicaIntroductory tour1180
2023Birdtour AsiaJul – AugIndonesiaSumatra & Java21122
2023BirdquestJul – AugBrazilEastern Amazonia1991
2023BirdquestAug EcuadorNorthern & Amazonian32119
2023BirdquestAug PeruNorthern20203
2023BirdquestSep TanzaniaAll25118
2023RockjumperSep – OctTanzaniaAll21160
2023RockjumperNov – DecColombiaAll30335
2023RockjumperNov – DecGhanaAll22100

The high number of possible new birds in a single trip to Colombia makes it very attractive. Northern Peru offers the next best numbers. Once those decisions were made other trips started to be precluded by temporal overlap. The Philippines offers a significant number of Asian birds on one trip. Kenya offers a significant number of East African birds in one trip. The Amazonia area of Brazil offered a significant number of birds at a time clear of other trips.

Using the above list I initially selected the following countries and areas to check trip availability, prices, leaders and transport issues ;-

CountryAreaAdjusted Number
PhilippinesLuzon, Mindanao & Palawan168
BrazilSouth West Amazonia119

These trips together would have a chance of getting me over the 7,000 threshold with 7,147.

It all seems so simple when it is just a paper exercise!