Synopses & Reviews
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
Explorer and noted bird expert Tim Gallagher is no stranger to the obsession for adventure. In the early 2000s, Gallagher rediscovered the legendary Ivory-billed Woodpecker — which most scientists believed had been extinct for sixty years — causing an international stir.
Now, in Imperial Dreams, Gallagher once again hits the trail, with a “natural treasure” map of sightings of the Imperial 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, to find and protect the Imperial woodpecker in its last habitat, Gallagher ventures deep into isolated territory, the high pine forests of Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental. In this mysterious, historically wild area, Geronimo led Apaches in their last stand and William Randolph Hearst inherited a storied ranch, which Pancho Villa looted. Today, drug lords rule the land.
Here in the Sierra, the giant Imperial’s pounding drumbeat once echoed like the blows of an ax through the Sierra as it bored into the massive, grub-infested pines, hammering on them powerfully for weeks at a time until they groaned, shuddered, and finally toppled with a thunderous impact that shook the ground. The bird had largely disappeared by the early 1950s, yet rumors of Imperial Woodpeckers flying through remote forests persist.
Gallagher’s quest takes a terrifying turn as he encounters armed drug traffickers, burning houses, and fleeing villagers. His passionate mission, now a life-and-death drama, will keep armchair adventurers on the edge of their seats as he chases truth in the most dangerous of habitats.
“A unique and personal perspective on what could be one of the most significant ornithological events of the last hundred years.” David Allen Sibley
“The best birding book that’s been written in years” Minneapolis Star Tribune
“The most delightful and fascinating magpie of a memoir, told with panache, verve, and honesty.” Tony Huston, screenwriter
“This engaging book draws readers in from page 1… A gem.” Booklist, Starred Review
“Gallagher is a wonderful storyteller with the brain of an ornithologist and the nerve of a spelunker. Every time I put this book down, I picked it up again to take in just one more chapter, lured onward by the same tantalizing shards of evidence that kept Gallagher in the game, aghast at the risks he took, immersed in the cold, forbidding landscape; enthralled by the scimitar-clawed grip of the world’s largest woodpecker on his—and my-- imagination.” Julie Zickefoose, author of The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds
"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
"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
“Popular science writing at its best. This engaging book draws readers in from page 1… A gem.” Booklist, starred review
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 Mexicos 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 woodpeckers 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.