IMPERIAL DREAMS by Tim Gallagher


Tracking the Imperial Woodpecker Through the Wild Sierra Madre
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A quest to find the legendary imperial woodpecker takes ornithologist Gallagher (Falcon Fever: A Falconer in the Twenty-first Century, 2008 etc.) on a trek through the dangerous byways of Mexico's Sierra Madre.

Since his earlier discovery of the related ivory-billed woodpecker, also thought to be extinct, the author was hopeful of tracking its cousin. Their impressive plumage and loud “trumpetlike toot” made them easily identifiable, and part of their vulnerability came from their social nature, as the animals clustered in groups to protect wounded birds. Considered a pest by farmers (including opium producers) and loggers who cleared the land, it was ruthlessly hunted while its habitat was destroyed. Reportedly, some also considered it a delicacy. By 2008, Gallagher was convinced that it was imperative to make the attempt to locate and protect any of these great birds that remained alive. His problem was not only the dangers inherent in trekking through steep mountain trails, but the fact that the region was controlled by ruthless drug lords and lower-level kidnappers who took advantage of the lawless environment to extort money from local inhabitants and luckless visitors. Gallagher chronicles his own trips to the area, where he was befriended by Mormon ranchers and guided by a member of the drug cartel, as well as the hair-raising adventures of others. The author sets his tale against the historical backdrop of the region, which was home to the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa and provided sanctuary to Apache Indians fleeing American troops. Finally having relinquished his quest, he compares himself to the prospectors and treasure hunters who once scoured the area, and he concludes that he would have had “a far better chance of getting killed in the Sierra Madre” than succeeding.

An exciting adventure story set against a sobering picture of the Mexican political scene.

Pub Date: April 16th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4391-9152-1
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Atria
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2013


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