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

Tim Gallagher, Author
Tim Gallagher. Atria, $26 (300p) ISBN 978-1-4391-9152-1
Open Ebook - 320 pages - 978-1-4391-9153-8
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After taking part in the sensational 2005 discovery of the rare Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Arkansas, Cornell ornithologist Gallagher (The Grail Bird) sets his sight on an even bigger prize: the legendary Imperial Woodpecker, a giant, elaborately crested species thought to be long extinct. Led by a decades-old map and film footage of the majestic bird, Gallagher travels to Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental range, where drug traffickers rule with impunity and horrific acts of violence—including kidnapping, arson, murder—are part of everyday life. The book recounts the natural and political history of the region, weaving in stories about Gallagher’s encounters with birds, locals, bird-watchers, and scientific experts. Although questing for technically extinct birds like the Imperial Woodpecker is “generally akin to believing in Sasquatch or claiming to have been abducted by a UFO,” Gallagher embarks on a risky trek past poppy farms, burned out houses, and terrified villagers to the wilderness area of the two-foot-long creature’s last definitive sighting in the 1950s. Although the book’s regional focus may be narrow, its tragic tales of environmental degradation, epic violence, and human foolhardiness have implications that will resonate well beyond the dangerous forests and valleys of Northern Mexico. Agent: Russell Galen, Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency. (Apr.)
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