Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Imperial Woodpecker talk in Kentucky

I'll be giving the keynote address at the annual meeting of the Kentucky Ornithological Society on Saturday, September 20, 2014, at 7:00 p.m. at Lake Barkley State Resort Park in Cadiz, Kentucky.  The meeting is open to everyone. I'll be talking about my search for the Imperial Woodpecker in the mountains of northwestern Mexico. I hope my friends from Kentucky and nearby states will join me. My old Ivory-billed Woodpecker searching friend Bobby Harrison—who joined me on one of the expeditions to Mexico and on many trips through the southern swamps—has promised to be there, so it should be an interesting evening. For more information, send an email to or visit the KOS website.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Rest in Peace, Ron Austing

I was very sorry to hear about the death of Ron Austing (1931-2014). He was a childhood hero of mine as an author, wildlife photographer, and falconer. His books include his memoir, I Went to the Woods, and the raptor natural history books, The World of the Red-tailed Hawk, and The World of the Great Horned Owl. His photographs appeared often in Living Bird and a number of other national magazines over the years. I finally got to meet Ron several years ago, and we became friends. Here's a link to a blogpost about Ron by Rich Wagner.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ten Years After

February 27, 2004; Bayou de View, Arkansas—It is shortly after one o'clock on a clear afternoon in late winter as we paddle our canoe down the bayou, me in the bow and Bobby Harrison in the stern. Gene Sparling is up ahead somewhere in his kayak, looking for the place where, less than two weeks earlier, he'd seen a huge black-and-white woodpecker that fit the description of an Ivory-bill.

From left to right, Gene Sparling, Bobby Harrison, and Tim Gallagher at Bayou de View on February 27, 2004, shortly after the Ivory-bill sighting.

As we move slowly with the current, transfixed by the movement of the murky brown swamp water, we both catch sight of a large bird flying up a side slough toward us. It's one of those things you pick up in your peripheral vision and without even thinking about it your mind runs through the possibilities—large, swift flying, black and white. 

Ivory-billed Woodpecker by Larry Chandler.

And then it bursts into full view right in front of you, exposing the
deepest, darkest black coloration, but what really catches your eye are the snow-white trailing edges of its wings, the unmistakeable field marks of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. And just as it pulls up to land on the trunk of a tupelo less than 100 feet away, you both shout simultaneously, "Ivory-bill!" And the bird veers away into the woods, landing a couple of times on the backs of tupelo trunks and then continuing on as you ram your canoe into the side of the bayou, jumping out and abandoning it while you struggle to move as fast as you can through the muck and mire, scrambling over huge fallen logs, tearing your clothes on broken branches and shrubbery. And fifteen minutes later, practically in cardiac arrest from the excitement and sheer exertion of the chase, you collapse against a massive fallen tree as Bobby sobs, "I saw an Ivory-bill...I saw an Ivory-bill."

And all these years later, on the 10th anniversary of this sighting, the moment is still so vivid, so amazing, so unlike anything you've ever experienced, your heart still races whenever you think about it.

At the very spot we saw the Ivory-bill, 10 years to the minute later,   I drink a toast with Bobby—unfortunately it's Mountain Dew, not Champagne. (Photo by Clara Gallagher)

Bobby Harrison discusses the February 27, 2004, Ivory-bill sighting in George Butler's documentary, The Lord God Bird. Here's a link to an 8-minute clip from the film that has interviews with Gene Sparling, Bobby Harrison, and Tim Gallagher.

Ed Bradley of "60 Minutes" interviews Tim Gallagher and Bobby Harrison for a segment that aired in 2005. Here's a link to the archived program. (Photo by Ron Rohrbaugh)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Imperial Dreams makes Top 10 Science & Health Books of 2013 list

I just heard that my latest book, Imperial Dreams, was one of the books chosen for Booklist's Top 10 Science & Health Books of 2013 list. I was honored to be on the same list as E. O. Wilson and the other authors. The reviewer said, "Gallagher sets the gold standard for nature writing in this chronicle of his search for the possibly extinct imperial woodpecker in Mexican territory held by drug traffickers."

Friday, November 1, 2013

Explorers Club talk—November 4 in New York City

I'm looking forward to returning to the Explorers Club. The club itself is a great place to explore, filled with memorabilia from countless expeditions to the far reaches of the Earth and also outer space. Noteworthy past members include Robert Peary (of North Pole fame), Roy Chapman Andrews (arguably the model for Indiana Jones), Roald Amundsen (of South Pole fame), Theodore Roosevelt, Edmund Hillary, and astronaut Neil Armstrong. Astronauts Buzz Aldrin and John Glenn are current members.

I'll be talking about my own expeditions through the mountains of northwestern Mexico in search of the giant Imperial Woodpecker—largest woodpecker that ever lived and perhaps the rarest bird on the planet. It hasn't had a documented sighting since 1956, and yet stories persist among mountain villagers that a handful of them yet live on. My goal was to find out if the rumors were true, and beyond that, to talk with people who knew this species intimately, and try to find out why its numbers plummeted so precipitously in the late 1940s and early '50s.

The Explorers Club is at 46 E. 70th Street, New York, NY. The reception begins at 6:00 p.m. and my talk at 7:00. For full details, call (212) 628-8383, send email to, or click on this link. Hope to see you there.