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

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 277 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books (16 April 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439191522
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439191521
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 699,783 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"If you get to know Tim, as I have, you will learn that this most American of all men is actually British and part of a long tradition of explorers who step unselfconsciously where lesser men fear to tread. He also loves birds and is an expert on all aspects of birdlife. One day soon, I hope, the Queen will recognize Tim's contributions to top-flight ornithology and put him on her Honours List..."--George Butler, filmmaker

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've read all of Tim Gallagher' work and I'm a big fan. The book has to be his stand out. Exciting adventure but the saddest of endings. I knew before reading that this magnificent woodpecker had not been discovered but even so I hoped for a surprise happy ending.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 18 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Great book on a rare bird, and a good adventure yarn 20 April 2013
By Egerlaender - Published on
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A Courageous Quest 8 May 2013
By Dallas Murphy - Published on
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Imperial Dreams 29 April 2013
By Eugenia E. Leftwich - Published on
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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A sobering view of northern Mexico 24 Jun. 2013
By Rick Skwiot - Published on
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Who would have thought searching for a (most likely) extinct bird could be so dangerous!! 2 July 2014
By Keith A. Mueller - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When Tim Gallagher's new book "Imperial Dreams" debuted on the market, I immediately ordered my copy from 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! This once undisturbed land rich in history from the Apaches refusing to surrender with Geronimo, the million acre ranch of William Randolph Hearst which was looted by Pancho Villa, is now ruled by drug lords, kidnappers and thieves. Gallagher had terrifying encounters with drug traffickers heavily armed with AK-47s, walked into opium and marijuana fields, saw burned and burning villages and met many villagers fleeing the area.

What started out as a noble quest to find a needle in a field of haystacks (or a missing jewel in the endless mountain range) turns in to a quest of survival in one of the most dangerous environments in the World!

This was an amazing read! The author was spurred on by the hope that this spectacular bird might still exist and possibly be saved if only someone would travel through the mountains, talk to the people, follow-up on leads, and hopefully find a nesting pair! Mr. Gallagher travels deep into the isolated mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidentale and carries with him a treasure map dotted with sightings of the Imperial Woodpecker entrusted to him by a friend on his deathbed. What happens then?......Well, you will have to read this great book!
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