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Imperial Dreams: Tracking the Imperial Woodpecker Through the Wild Sierra Madre Hardcover – April 16, 2013


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Imperial Dreams: Tracking the Imperial Woodpecker Through the Wild Sierra Madre + The Grail Bird: The Rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books (April 16, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439191522
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439191521
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #663,277 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Gallagher’s search for the ivory-billed woodpecker, recounted in The Grail Bird (2005), was both inspiring and heartbreaking. He now chronicles his travels through Mexico in search of another lost bird, the imperial woodpecker, which takes Gallagher and his friends into territory where drug traffickers hold much of the land that the possibly extinct woodpecker once called home. With a “natural-treasure map” in hand, Gallagher intends to hike the mountains where the imperial woodpecker once lived and determine once and for all if it has been lost forever. His passion is stirring, but it is the narrative power of his words that will pull readers in. As he follows the trail of those who sighted the bird and interviews people who carry its call in their memories, Gallagher tells the story of the country he visits, from Pancho Villa to Geronimo, Mormon settlers, Aldo Leopold, and now, sadly, the terrifying blight of narcotraficantes. In the midst of guns and drugs, the bird men remain dedicated and determined. Gallagher returned home with a story for the ages and gives armchair travelers, bird lovers, and history buffs a spectacular view of the struggle for modern Mexico’s soul. Gallagher has set a gold standard for nature writing. A triumph. --Colleen Mondor

Review

“The best birding book that’s been written in years” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

A Top 10 Science & Health Book of 2013 “Gallagher has set a gold standard for nature writing. A triumph.” (Booklist, starred review)

“The most delightful and fascinating magpie of a memoir, told with panache, verve, and honesty.” (Tony Huston, screenwriter)

"Tim Gallagher's Imperial Dreams is unique, a blend of natural and tragic human history and Indiana Jones-style adventure. Imagine venturing into the mountainous heart of Mexico's narcotraficante country armed only with pictures of a great bird that may or may not be extinct. This is Tim Gallagher's most exciting book, and may be his best." (Stephen Bodio, author of An Eternity of Eagles)

“An exciting adventure story set against a sobering picture of the Mexican political scene.” (Kirkus)


"Imperial Dreams by Tim Gallagher is a natural history of the world’s most spectacular woodpecker and a mystery... It starts as a lighthearted adventure and becomes a tragedy and a tale of terror.... one to excite adventure travelers ...an unforgettable tale of loss... Excellent adventure." (Living Bird magazine of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology)

"Gallagher combines an in-depth, extensively researched historical account of the region with an equally impressive detailed account of his own experiences there." (Audubon Magazine)

More About the Author

Tim Gallagher is an award-winning author, wildlife photographer, and magazine editor. He is editor-in-chief of LIVING BIRD, the flagship publication of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Tim got his first field guide at the age of eight, and he's been hooked on birds ever since. His lifelong interest in wilderness exploration has taken him twice to Greenland, where he made two open-boat voyages up the coast to study nesting seabirds and falcons, and to the hinterlands of Iceland, where he climbed lofty cliffs to learn more about the spectacular Gyrfalcon, the world's largest falcon.

Gallagher also spent several years traveling across the South, interviewing people who claimed to have seen the legendary Ivory-billed Woodpecker and following up on their sightings. On one of these journeys down a bayou in eastern Arkansas, he and Bobby Harrison had a close-up view of an Ivory-bill. This sighting quickly led to the largest search ever launched to find a rare bird.

More recently, Gallagher has been on the trail of the Imperial Woodpecker--a spectacular giant woodpecker (and closest relative of the Ivory-bill)--in the vast mesa pine forests of Mexico's Sierra Madre Occidental. The last documented sighting of the species took place in 1956, and yet rumors persist among mountain villagers that the birds may still live on in the remotest reaches of this mighty mountain range. To find out if the rumors could possibly be true, author Tim Gallagher set out on a harrowing journey through the high country of the Sierra Madre--a vast, lawless region and now the epicenter of illegal drug growing in Mexico--which he chronicles in his latest book, IMPERIAL DREAMS. He is also the author of PARTS UNKNOWN, THE GRAIL BIRD, FALCON FEVER, and WILD BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY.

Customer Reviews

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Started reading the book and have a hard time putting it down.
Ken
Tim Gallagher's forays into the Sierra Madre tracking the Imperial Woodpecker make a great read.
Egerlaender
I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in this area of Mexico.
michael j dee

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Egerlaender on April 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Tim Gallagher's forays into the Sierra Madre tracking the Imperial Woodpecker make a great read. The author, who seems to have the stamina and persistence of a Victorian explorer, endured ferocious weather, encounters with mysterious and menacing armed men, and very rugged country, pursued this ornithological mystery and made a wonderful book about it. The Imperial Woodpecker is almost certainly extinct, and yet there is a tantalizing possibility that a few individuals survive in their mountain fastness.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dallas Murphy on May 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Imperial Dreams is brilliant--and important. Ornithologist Tim Gallagher takes us on a grueling quest for that which may no longer exist, the Imperial Woodpecker, the largest of its kind, some two feet long from tail to crest. The quest, redolent of old-school explorers', takes him into Mexico's wild Sierra Madre mountains, where he pursues claims by locals to have seen the magnificent bird while conducting his own search. He tramps bad country, not only for its rigorous conditions but because it's ground zero for Mexico's vicious "narcotraficantes." Not only is Mr. Gallagher an excellent writer, he's a very courageous man.

Though Mr. Gallagher's search is sharply pointed at this single bird, its story carries universal implications--a magnificent animal, once far ranging, now diminished unto (near?) extinction by habitat destruction and pointless human extirpation. Yet Gallagher continues to search--and in that there is hope.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Eugenia E. Leftwich on April 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was introduced to the Imperial Woodpecker via Tim Gallagher's blog about his quest to find any remaining examples of the living bird. I became fascinated, besotted, and I was excited to receive my pre-ordered copy of the book. I was not disappointed--on the contrary. Gallagher is an intrepid adventurer on a dangerous mission through the wilds of the Sierra Madre of Mexico, battling rigorous conditions and the threat of drug runners. A quixotic quest, perhaps; that remains to be seen. A book full of hope and disappointment and again and above all hope. I continue to read, and to hope along with the author.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Rick Skwiot on June 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For those of us who love birds and Mexico, Tim Gallagher's "Imperial Dreams: Tracking the Imperial Woodpecker through the Wild Sierra Madre," is a sobering book. It chronicles the willful destruction of habitat--both animal and human--in northwest Mexico by loggers, ranchers, drug gangs, corruption and ignorance. Editor in chief of the world famous Cornell Lab of Ornithology's magazine "Living Bird," Gallagher himself nearly becomes a dead duck in his quest to find an extant specimen of the once thriving imperial woodpecker, the world's largest.

What Gallagher discovers through several forays into the rugged Sierra Madre Occidental--the last in 2011--is a lawless land where drug cartels rule, practicing intimidation, kidnapping, rape, extortion and murder. Further, the gangs continue the ongoing decimation of rare highland forests--the last refuge of the imperial woodpecker--in order to fashion opium and marijuana growing fields as well as airfields to fly the contraband north to U.S. consumers.

Along the way Gallagher feeds us fascinating tidbits of Sierra Madre and northern Mexico history, including stories of Geronimo and raiding Apaches (not obliterated there until the 1930s), Pancho Villa and General Pershing, expatriate American Mormons who still cling to their ranches despite kidnappings by the Zetas and other drug gangs, and the demise of the indigenous wolves and grizzlies.

But the most lasting impression of "Imperial Dreams" is how dangerous that part of Mexico has become for the human species. Gallagher encounters horror upon horror perpetrated by the drug gangs, renting the lives and culture of the Mexicans trying to exist peacefully on their land. It is no wonder that now Mexican communities are turning to vigilantism in a last-ditch effort to preserve their threatened human habitat.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jim C on December 14, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Wow- what a great book! This is much more than a book about Imperial Woodpeckers - it is a story about Mexico, the drug trade, the indigenous peoples and Mormon ranchers who live in the Sierra Madre facing a wave of change, the Apaches who lived there.... The terror and challenge of the Mexican drug war is well captured.

Thanks to the author for telling this story in his quest to find an imperial woodpecker. To think this story is set not far from US borders.

Very highly recommended!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By augustina sutherland on May 18, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I love this book. I heard about it on NPR and am so glad that I picked it up. Adventure and awareness to not just what is happening environmentally but politically. I admire this author for putting himself in harms way to collect the oral history of this amazing bird. The author also gives a great insight into the turmoil of Mexico and its impact on the people as well as the wildlife.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When Tim Gallagher's new book "Imperial Dreams" debuted on the market, I immediately ordered my copy from Amazon.com. When the box arrived, I quickly opened it and began reading the book. By the second night, I had read it cover to cover. Wow....this book is powerfully intriguing!

The Imperial Woodpecker disappeared in the early 1950's. A few years ago, a short 80 second film clip surfaced of a female Imperial Woodpecker in the Sierra Madre Occidentale in Durango. Mexico. The film as shot in 1956 (the year I was born) by Pennsylvania dentist and amateur Ornithologist William Rhein. Dr. Rhein went to the Sierra Madre in Mexico to specifically film and record the sounds of the Imperial Woodpecker. He went there in 1953, 54 and 56 and finally succeeded in 1956. He shot the only known footage in existence of the Imperial Woodpecker, a female, with a handheld 16 mm movie camera from the back of his mule. He never succeeded in obtaining any sound recordings of the Woodpecker, but his film footage is historic!

Over the past few decades, stray sightings of this Woodpecker have been reported by the people who live in the mountains. Maybe, just maybe a few birds are just barely hanging on....finding a small hidden area of the mountains where they are not being harassed or killed? But, (if) a few of these birds are still clinging to existence.....could anyone get to the area in the mountains that is/was the home of this Woodpecker?

In this book, Tim Gallagher travels deep into the mountains of the Sierra Madre following in the same footsteps of many famous Naturalists before him questing for this Grand Woodpecker!
Read more ›
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