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Imperial Dreams: Tracking the Imperial…
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Imperial Dreams: Tracking the Imperial Woodpecker Through the Wild Sierra…

by Tim Gallagher

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331514,209 (3.5)7
"Explorer and naturalist Tim Gallagher is obsessed with rare birds. A decade ago, Gallagher was one of the rediscoverers of the legendary ivory-billed woodpecker, which most scientists believed had been extinct for more than half a century--an event that caused an international stir. Now, in Imperial Dreams, Gallagher once again hits the trail, journeying deep into Mexico's savagely beautiful Sierra Madre Occidental, home to rich wildlife, as well as to Mexican drug cartels, in a perilous quest to locate the most elusive bird in the world--the imperial woodpecker, a giant among its clan. The imperial woodpecker's trumpetlike calls and distinctive hammering on massive pines once echoed through the high forests. Two feet tall, with deep black plumage, a brilliant snow-white shield on its back, and a crimson crest, the imperial woodpecker had largely disappeared fifty years ago, though reports persist of the bird still flying through remote mountain stands. In an attempt to find and protect the imperial woodpecker in its last habitat, Gallagher is guided by a map of sightings of this natural treasure of the Sierra Madre, bestowed on him by a friend on his deathbed. Charged with continuing the quest of a line of distinguished naturalists, including the great Aldo Leopold, Gallagher treks through this mysterious, historically untamed and untamable territory. Here, where an ancient petroglyph of the imperial can still be found, Geronimo led Apaches in their last stand, William Randolph Hearst held a storied million-acre ranch, and Pancho Villa once roamed, today ruthless drug lords terrorize residents and steal and strip the land. Gallagher's passionate quest takes a harrowing turn as he encounters armed drug traffickers, burning houses, and fleeing villagers. His mission becomes a life-and-death drama that will keep armchair adventurers enthralled as he chases truth in the most dangerous of habitats"--"Naturalist Tim Gallagher journeys deep into the savagely beautiful Sierra Madre, home to rich wildlife and other natural treasures--and also to Mexican drug cartels--in a dangerous quest to locate the rarest bird in the world--the possibly extinct Imperial Woodpecker, the largest of all carpinteros"--… (more)

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Scientists the world over are continually saddened by the news of threatened and endangered species. Every time a new animal is added to the list, there is a clamor of activity to study, preserve, and bolster that animal’s population. But what if an animal were stuck the gray area between endangered and extinct? What if the last documented sighting of a particular animal was 50 years ago? How much time has to pass before it can be declared extinct? These questions and many others are considered in Tim Gallagher’s latest bird book, Imperial Dreams.

Imperial Dreams chronicles the author’s many journeys to Northern Mexico to find a living example of the imperial woodpecker (Campephilus imperialis), a bird thought to have died out some time in the last fifty years. Every decade or so, though, somebody comes forward with a sighting or a story of its continued existence. So, Cornell ornithologist Tim Gallagher, who re-discovered the ivory-billed woodpecker in Arkansas in 2004, gathered fellow bird-lovers and scientists to go on expeditions to Mexico to finally see if the bird had truly gone extinct.

The funny thing about his journey is that we get much more about the people and the countryside than about the birds themselves. Gallaghers includes every passage from just about every source for anyone having even a slight connection to the imperial. His exhaustive research into ornithological history and criss-crossing of the Mexican countryside to track down leads is quite inspiring.

The scientific aspects of this book, however, often take a back seat to the history of Northern Mexico. It has been ravaged by gangs, drug cartels, civil unrest, logging companies, and blatant disregard for perserving natural habitats. Every story of a scientific expedition is countered with an equally chilling tale of kidnapping and violence. This gets to you after a while. His journey into the Sierra Madre is well-written and teeming with wonderful details. While I won’t spoil his findings, I will say that the journey is worth it. Any lover of birds or nature will have fun with this one. ( )
1 vote NielsenGW | Mar 8, 2013 |
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