|The Imperial Woodpecker (Campephilus imperialus). Goache and pencil.|
Dark, moss-hung conifer forests proliferate on the mountainsides and sometimes open up into hushed, misty glades. Icy waterfalls cascade down from the sky, the forest is full of the flute-like songs of thrushes, and the fruiting bodies of mushrooms provide generous fare during the rainy season. Overall, the shoulders of Iztaccihuatl hide secret, pristine places whose very essence is both timeless and a far cry from the relative chaos of the nearby city. It is a forest whose organic splendor could hardly be matched by the forests of our most elaborate fantasies, it is more than magical...
And yet, there is the reality of human impact also at work, and as expansive and rugged as the timbered ridges are, the Mexican White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus mexicanus) has been locally extinct in the area for at least 20 to 30 years due to over-harvesting and a virtually non-existent wildlife management program... And while there is reasonable hope to assume that stags may one day return to haunt the ferny shadows, there are some creatures that, save from paintings and the most animate imaginations, cannot be retrieved from the past at all...
Verily, it was this very mountain -Iztaccihuatl- which once marked the southernmost range of one of Mexico's most striking birds, and it is the ghost-like presence that I felt among the bright, open parklands near timberline (a place where they likely nested) that inspired me to paint this magnificent animal, the Imperial Woodpecker.
|Wild, edible mushrooms|
For a long time since its last confirmed sighting, it was believed that the species vanished without ever being filmed or recorded on audio. Much to the delight of the ornithological world, the recent discovery of this forgotten footage captured several birds foraging in their native habitat in the state of Durango in 1956. Ironically, this was the last year that the birds were recorded in the wild and they have not been seen since. Their disappearance -like that of their counterpart the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker- was a great disappointment and mystery to naturalists and ornithologists across the world. Here is a link to the William L. Rhein footage.