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Ghost Birds: Jim Tanner and the Quest for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, 1935-1941 Hardcover – October 21, 2010


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Ghost Birds: Jim Tanner and the Quest for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, 1935-1941 + The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker (Dover Birds) + Ivorybill Hunters: The Search for Proof in a Flooded Wilderness
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Univ Tennessee Press; 1 edition (October 21, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1572337176
  • ISBN-13: 978-1572337176
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,089,498 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Everyone who is interested in the ivory-billed woodpecker will want to read this book—from scientists who wish to examine the data from all the places Tanner explored to the average person who just wants to read a compelling story.”
—Tim Gallagher, author of The Grail Bird: The Rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Book Description

“Everyone who is interested in the ivory-billed woodpecker will want to read this book—from scientists who wish to examine the data from all the places Tanner explored to the average person who just wants to read a compelling story.”
—Tim Gallagher, author of The Grail Bird: The Rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker

In 1935 naturalist James T. Tanner was a twenty-one-year-old graduate student when he saw his first ivory-billed woodpecker, one of America’s Istudent when he saw his first ivory-billed woodpecker, one of America’s rarest birds, in a remote swamp in northern Louisiana. At the time, he rarest birds, in a remote swamp in northern Louisiana. At the time, he was part of an ambitious expedition traveling across the country to record and photograph as many avian species as possible, a trip organized by Dr. Arthur Allen, founder of the famed Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Two years later, Tanner hit the road again, this time by himself and in search of only one species—that ever-elusive ivory-bill. Sponsored by Cornell and the Audubon Society, Jim Tanner’s work would result in some of the most extensive field research ever conducted on the magnificent woodpecker.


Drawing on Tanner’s personal journals and written with the cooperation of his widow, Nancy, Ghost Birds recounts, in fascinating detail, the scientist’s
dogged quest for the ivory-bill as he chased down leads in eight southern states. With Stephen Lyn Bales as our guide, we experience the same awe and excitement that Tanner felt when he returned to the Louisiana wetland he had visited earlier and was able to observe and document several of the “ghost birds”—including a nestling that he handled, banded, and photographed at close range. Investigating the ivory-bill was particularly urgent because it was a fast-vanishing species, the victim of indiscriminant specimen hunting and widespread logging that was destroying its habitat. As sightings became rarer and rarer in the decades following Tanner’s remarkable research, the bird was feared to have become extinct. Since 2005, reports of sightings in Arkansas and Florida made headlines and have given new hope to ornithologists and bird lovers, although extensive subsequent investigations have yet to produce definitive confirmation.


Before he died in 1991, Jim Tanner himself had come to believe that the majestic woodpeckers were probably gone forever, but he remained hopeful
that someone would prove him wrong. This book fully captures Tanner’s determined spirit as he tracked down what was then, as now, one of ornithology’s true Holy Grails.


STEPHEN LYN BALES is a naturalist at the Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville,
Tennessee. He is the author of Natural Histories, published by UT Press in 2007.

 


More About the Author

Stephen Lyn Bales is senior naturalist at Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville, Tennessee. He has written for Smithsonian magazine and is a regular contributor to The Tennessee Conservationist magazine. Bales is also a regular speaker at Wilderness Wildlife Week and other venues.

His first book "Natural Histories," published by UT Press, covered the natural history of the Tennessee Valley.

Bales' second book, "Ghost Birds: Jim Tanner and the Quest for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, 1935-1941" is the compelling story of Jim Tanner and his fieldwork on the "Lord God Bird" in the late 1930s. Tanner was the only ornithologist to conduct an in-depth study of the largest woodpecker to live in the United States, the legendary ghost bird of the South. This species became the subject of considerable controversy during the past decade. Tanner's fieldwork in the 1930s while a grad student at Cornell University provide a detailed look into the natural history of this species that may or may not be extinct.

"Everyone who is interested in the ivory-billed woodpecker will want to read this book--from scientists who wish to examine the data from all the places Tanner explored to the average person who just wants to read a compelling story," Tim Gallagher, author of The Grail Bird: The Rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker

"Ghost Birds resembles the recollections and musings of a man at the bedside of a friend struggling against a fatal illness...fascinating in its detail of the day-to-day existence of the last known group of these magnificent birds, the book also records a dogged scientist's frustrating search through southern swamps for other ivory-bills," writes Frank Graham Jr. in Audubon magazine

"Ghost Birds" was also reviewed in Living Bird and excerpted on the Audubon online edition.

Bales keeps a natural history blog at http://stephenlynbales.blogspot.com.

Customer Reviews

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The book was hard for me to read because I already knew how it ended.
Amazon Customer
Mr. Bales added some great information to the story of Jim Tanner's life and his quest for finding and documenting the life of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
Birder
If you have an interest in the ivorybill or not, this is a must read book.
Bobby R. Harrison

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jade Hems on September 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having read a great deal on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, I wasn't sure if there would be anything new in this book. However, I was utterly absorbed in the story of Tanner's life and his time spent studying the birds. The book is a new angle on a topic well covered by other authors; a biography of James Tanner's efforts to document and save the bird, and as such this is not primarily about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Traveling day by day on Tanner's sound recording expedition with Arthur Allen in 1935 was fascinating, revealing much about bird populations, and the wider context of the landscape and life in Depression era America. There was a lot of new detail here too about Tanner's time with the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, that brought the birds to life for me like never before. I really enjoyed the descriptions of Tanner's time in the swamp observing the birds and felt I came to know each bird individually as Tanner must have done. I shared his joy in finding the nest and seeing the family again the following year. What an incredible place the Singer Tract must have been.
This book is an excellent portrait of an interesting man, America in the 1930s and of course of an amazing, beautiful bird, and the lost primeval world in which it lived. I know I will return to this book and journey into the swamps with Tanner again and again.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Vickie Henderson on November 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Ghost Birds: Jim Tanner and the Quest for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, 1935-1941, by Stephen Lyn Bales

What an incredible story Stephen Lyn Bales weaves in his latest book, Ghost Birds. Not just a book about the ivory-billed woodpecker, though that would be quite enough, it is the story of conservation's beginnings in a rapidly changing, war-torn world, a time when sound recordings, movies, and still photography were barely versatile enough to be used "in the field" and field observations were new and uncharted territory.

James Tanner was not only the man who most intimately knew the ivory-billed woodpecker, he was a pioneer in the emerging field of ecology while prevailing ornithological practices were still dominated by shooting birds and collecting specimens. No one had ever before watched a live bird interact in its natural habitat and recorded that behavior for scientific understanding.

With his expert storytelling skills, Bales sets a vivid stage for his reader, giving not only the scene's sensory detail, but the deeper context of history and prevailing mood of the time. As readers, we get to effortlessly accompany James Tanner into the swamps, a young biologist facing an enormous challenge--learn everything there is to know about ivory-billed woodpeckers.

Bales' characters are bigger than life, and despite being based on reams of research, his story reads like a skillfully crafted suspense novel. We see and experience Tanner's celebrations, his disappointments, and his worries.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Bobby R. Harrison on October 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ghost Birds, This is a long over due book about a man of amazing tenacity. The book tells the incredible story of James T. Tanner, the right man in the right place at the right time. Tanner, an undergrad student at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology was selected by the legendary Arthur Allen to join an expedition across America to record in sound and on film rare and endangered birds. Upon being shown Ivorybills in the Singer Tract of Northern Louisiana the expedition makes the first photos, movies and sound recording of this rare and endangered species.
It was not soon after this expedition that Tanner was back in the Louisiana swamps under a grant from the National Association of Audubon Societies, studying ivorybills and working on his PhD. Tanner's four-year study is the first and only scientific study of Ivory-billed Woodpecker. The author, Stephens Lyn Bales did a superb job of telling the fascinating story of this iconic man. If you have an interest in the ivorybill or not, this is a must read book. Once I started reading I could not put it down. Bales words have a flow that keeps you mesmerized about the young James Tanner and his exploits throughout the south as he searches for the "Grail Bird". B. Harrison, [...]
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I have heard the charming story several times: author Bales and Nancy Tanner were having lunch during the huge Ivory-bill/Arkansas hoopla of 2005, when Nancy said that she feared her late husband Jim Tanner's work would be forgotten. And Bales said, "Well. Someone needs to write a book about Jim's work," followed by an immediate afterthought, "I need to write a book about Jim's work!" And so it began. And today, we have "Ghost Birds," the biography to ensure that Jim Tanner's fieldwork will not be forgotten, thanks to Stephen Lyn. Not only will Jim Tanner's historical study of the ivory-billed woodpecker not be forgotten, but we now have a very detailed, very intimate look at Jim's days as he searched for every last existing ivory-bill in the country.

Over the years I have heard pieces of Jim's tale because I am fortunate enough to know Nancy Tanner, and from living in the area where Jim Tanner lived, worked and raised his family. I have seen Nancy give her Ivory-bill lecture, which is so informative and entertaining, it brings me to tears of laughter and sadness every time. But in "Ghost Birds," the author does something different, something more. He gives the entire story of Jim's study, from start to finish, in the order in which the events occurred. The effective result: you may as well be in Jim Tanner's used 1931 Ford right next to him, because you have been taken along on the journey. Bales does a masterful job of chronicling Tanner's work, so that one gets the true sense of what this man went through to learn all that he could about these vanishing birds while there was still time.

Now a confession: this book was not easy for me to read. It was a fascinating page-turner, so that was not the problem. The book was hard for me to read because I already knew how it ended.
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