Thursday, December 04, 2008

¡Viva Pink Floyd!

Courtesy of our friend and fellow Pink Floyd fan Eduardo Gomez, mariachis (and I use that term generically since they're not all playing traditional instruments) rock the house at Hussong's Cantina in Ensenada, south of San Diego in Baja California Norte:



And they do Credence, too!

Ah, if we could find such a band in Sonora, what a fantastic cultural addition that would be to our birding tours....

--SW

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Halloween memories

I promised to post a few photos from this year's Halloween celebration in Bisbee, and here they are.

It was quite a party. Brewery Gulch was the place to be, with a street dance benefit for a local charity in front of the Copper Queen Hotel, raucous festivities at St. Elmo's and the Stock Exchange Bar, and bizarre apparitions crowding the sidewalks.

Tom's costume got a few puzzled reactions, but most of the locals caught on right away ("Look at the horny toad!"). There were lots of compliments, particularly on his hand-crafted mask, but the best reaction of the night was from a woman who had done research on Flat-tailed Horned Lizards in California.The immobility of a mask is a challenge to character development, so I spiced things up with crouching posture, slinking walk, exaggerated head and hand movements, and eerie silence calculated to weird people out. The reactions were an interesting mix. Men seemed particularly uncomfortable with not knowing the gender of the person inside the costume, but a couple of women were thoroughly charmed by the froggie (a tipsy nerd girl even planted a smooch on my big green snout). The most disturbing comment was from a twenty-something guy who shouted, "Hey! What are you? I've never seen you in no movie!" I just gave my head a quizzical twist and gestured cryptically with my long red sleeves before slinking on up the street.

Late in the evening we ran into friends Liz and Jim. Liz made a great "Thriller" zombie, so it was a pity that the only Michael Jackson the street dance DJ played was "Billie Jean." Jim always manages to come up with a really creepy concept; this year his all-black ensemble with long coat. bowler hat, and face-concealing veil accented with a bone-pale sinuous walking stick brought to mind both Rene Magritte and the shadowy back streets of New Orleans.


The flip side of Jim's persona, hidden beneath a white lace-trimmed shroud, was leading the drum circle at Goar Park; Tom joined in on pickle bucket.


Next year, time and finances permitting, I promise that we'll do new costumes, maybe back to birds. Suggestions, anyone?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Tangy Tuna Treats

Is this the pinkest pink lemonade you've ever seen? That hot color is all natural, courtesy of a couple of teaspoons of juice from tunas, the fruits of a native prickly pear cactus.

My paternal grandmother made jams, jellies, and preserves from such wild Texas fruits as prickly pears, mustang grapes (Vitis mustangensis), algerita berries (Mahonia haematocarpa), and wild plums. Lacking the forethought to learn her recipes before she died, I was forced to develop my own prickly pear protocol by trial and error.

I got off to a rocky start with the fruits of Opuntia phaeacantha, which are only red on the outside; the resulting jelly tasted okay but was far from the visual treat I remembered. The proper species, Opuntia engelmannii, produced a gorgeous magenta juice, but I learned the hard way that the pigment is heat sensitive. The fruits are naturally low in the pectin that produces jelly, and cooking the syrup a little longer to compensate can result in a sudden, dramatic loss of color.

Getting a product with good body and good color may take double or triple the pectin you'd add to apple or grape juice plus extra sugar, so prickly pear jelly can get a little pricey. Fortunately, prickly pear syrup is just as tasty and even more versatile. Its delicate flavor and intense color make a lovely addition to pancakes, waffles, ice cream, cheesecake, fruit salads, and even in Tequila Sunrises in place of grenadine (which usually contains artificial coloring).

Unsweetened prickly pear juice can be combined with another native American fruit for a desert twist on a traditional holiday condiment. If you have access to plump, juicy prickly pear fruits and don't mind taking a little food out of the mouths of thrashers, quail, javelinas, and even butterflies such as the Viceroy at right, collect a few and try this recipe:

Cranberry-Tuna Sauce

1 c. tuna (prickly pear fruit) juice
10-12 oz. ripe cranberries
1 c. white sugar

Harvest 5 to 10 medium to large tunas. Salad tongs are useful for removing them from the plant, as you do NOT want to get the nasty little glochids in your skin. Wash the fruits thoroughly to remove dust and as many of the glochids as possible (a vegetable brush will help, though I once used the rinse setting at a manual car wash); trimming off the round blossom scar is optional. Place in a glass or enamel pan, cover just to the tops of the fruits with water, bring to a boil, then drop the heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes or until the water is deeply colored. Allow the fruits and water to cool, then either 1) mash with a potato masher or 2) pulse in a food processor until the larger chunks disappear. Strain juice and pulp through 3-4 layers of cheesecloth, squeezing the pulp gently to extract as much of the tuna goodness as possible without letting any stray glochids through.

Open a 12-ounce bag of cranberries, rinse in cold water, and put any underripe (white) berries aside for the birds. Combine berries in a glass or enamel saucepan with 1 cup extracted tuna juice and 1 cup white sugar (if you reduce the sugar or use a substitute, you may need to add a thickening agent to get a firm gel). Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. (If necessary, use a heat diffuser or place saucepan inside a heavy skillet to avoid hot spots that can cause carmelization.) Serve hot or cold with meats or meat substitutes or just eat it all by itself when no one's looking.

Use leftover juice to flavor and color lemonade, tea, gelatin, or homemade sorbet or gelato. --SW

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Woo hoo! It's Bisbee's favorite holiday, when it's hard to tell who's in costume and who's just wearing their street clothes.

We missed celebrating Halloween last year because I was in Cape May, but we're going out tonight in a couple of our favorite costumes (right): The Horned Lizard King and Ambassador Krkktt. This photo is from these characters' inaugural year, 2001; I'll try to get a back photo of Tom's costume tonight to post as an addendum, because it rocks.

We each made our own mask in a workshop put on by a local art gallery. First we formed the basic shape in earthen clay then covered the form with plastic wrap and applied layer upon layer of cotton batting soaked in watered-down glue. After several days of drying, we painted them and added additional touches (dimensional fabric paint works great).

It's been several years since we've been that inspired, but on past Halloweens Tom's been the World's Largest Montezuma Quail (left), a Great Gray Owl, a Javelina, a gorilla tourist in Bermuda shorts and bucket hat, a musical spider (he played The Ballad of Spider John by Willis Allan Ramsey at the now defunct Quarter Moon Coffeehouse), and Tim the Enchanter (he won a costume contest with that one).

I've been a Druid priestess, green elf, and Mother Earth, but the last few years I've been bouncing back and forth between the frog alien pictured above and a Dia de los Muertos catrina, with skull makeup and a big black hat wreathed in red roses (very Dead). One year, a guy came up to me in the Stock Exchange Bar and said, "Your makeup's really realistic and I should know...I've seen a lot of skulls." (Uh, thank you kind sir?) In keeping with my costume, I abandoned my usual karaoke alter ego, Roberta Shrub, for "G├╝era Calavera" (roughly, "Blondie Skull").

So we're recycling costumes again this year, but maybe the spectacle of our Bisbee neighbors all decked out in their wonderfully creative finery will get us charged up for next Halloween.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

P-Dogs are in da howz!


A little good news amongst the grim:

Decades after federal programs extirpated them from the grasslands of southeastern Arizona, Black-tailed Prairie Dogs have returned to their historic home with a little help from their friends in the Arizona Game & Fish Department and Bureau of Land Management.

According to the AGFD press release, 74 BTPDs captured at Ted Turner's Ladder Ranch in New Mexico were released on Las Cienegas National Conservation Area on October 7. It's ironic that the transplants came from over 200 miles away when a small BTPD town persists less than 40 miles from the release site just across the Mexican border from Coronado National Memorial (thanks to a friendly rancher), and the largest remaining colony of this species in the world is less than 150 miles away in northwestern Chihuahua (where the PD photo above was taken).

P-dogs aren't canines, of course, but rodents in the same family as fluffy-tailed feeder raiders. Their sharp alarm calls, actually a complex and adaptable language that transmits detailed information about goings-on in their community, earned them the name that, given Euro-American culinary taboos against dining on dogs, probably saved them from becoming favorite targets of hungry pioneers and greedy market hunters.

They would have been an abundant food source, too. Two hundred years ago, BTPD "towns" numbering in the thousands to millions of inhabitants were found from Texas to Montana. The intensely social nature that inspired wonder in early explorers such as Lewis and Clark (who sent a live specimen back to President Thomas Jefferson) doomed them when cattle replaced the great herds of bison, pronghorns, and elk. In the late nineteenth century, newly-minted cattle barons who saw the colonial rodents as competitors taking food out of the mouths of their stock persuaded the government to launch a campaign of extermination that persists to this day. In their heyday, the shooting and poisoning efforts resulted in mountains of dead PDs displayed as trophies.

This wanton destruction was a disaster not only for the dogs themselves but for entire grassland ecosystems. Prairie dogs are keystone species, altering their habitat in ways that benefit other animals such as Ferruginous Hawk, Mountain Plover, Burrowing Owl, Pronghorn, American Bison, the critically endangered Black-footed Ferret, Kit and Swift foxes, and over a hundred more common species. The p-dogs' range management activities include suppressing woody vegetation, cultivating tasty and nutritious forbs, recycling nutrients from their underground latrines, and providing protected nest and den sites in landscapes where shelter is normally scarce. The dogs' elaborate burrow systems also significantly enhance recharge of aquifers essential for irrigated agriculture and other human activities.

Their underdog status is just one factor that earned prairie dogs a special place in our hearts. Thirty years ago, as director of the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge in Texas, Tom (who really ought to be writing this post) launched a project that successfully introduced Black-tailed Prairie Dogs to the refuge's large bison enclosure. Actually, he tried to introduce them to a large fallow pasture adjacent to the "buffalo range," but the p-dogs had other ideas. Like characters in some prison break movie, they dug under the sunken fencing of their temporary pen, crossed the road, and made themselves at home right in the middle of the bisons' favorite grazing area. Over the next few years the dogs became a favorite attraction with the public as well as one of Tom's passions. Their behavior and ecology are complex, fascinating, and easily observed, not to mention that they're civilized creatures that don't emerge from their burrows until well after sunup or stay out past sundown.

This history with prairie dogs prompted us to attend a public meeting held several years ago by AGFD to explore the possibility of reintroducing BTPDs into southeastern Arizona. The opposition was out in full force, repeating the same kind of easily debunked myths you hear at wolf meetings. (So cows and horses break their legs in prairie dog burrows? Have you ever personally seen this happen? No? Then maybe you can tell us why the early explorers didn't report herds of bison limping across the plains?) Naturally, Tom and I stood up for PDs at that meeting, but given the controversial nature of the subject and the glacial speed at which government bureaucracies move, we didn't expect to see any meaningful progress for a decade or more. The announcement of preparations for this week's reintroduction came as a thrilling surprise, and I wish we had been able to donate a few volunteer hours to the effort.

So what do we have to look forward to as BTPDs establish themselves in their new digs? Birders will delight as Ferruginous and Red-tailed hawks and Golden Eagles cruise the colony trying to pick off unwary residents, Burrowing Owls move into abandoned burrows, and longspurs and Mountain Plovers spend the winter foraging in the town's wide open spaces. Children on school field trips will learn about the social life, ecology, and history of prairie dogs, and both residents and tourists who would never have thought to visit Las Cienegas National Conservation Area will stop in for a peek at these remarkable mammals. If left alone, the town could get big enough to support Black-footed Ferrets, perhaps even some raised right here in Arizona at the Phoenix Zoo. A few ignorant people will complain (loudly), but with positive feedback to AGFD and BLM from birders and other enlightened members of the public, these agencies may have the support they need to expand reintroduction efforts to the Sulphur Springs and San Pedro valleys.

In 1968, Audubon magazine published an article titled "Dark Days in Dog Town" about the federal poisoning program. Here's hoping that those days are over and a brighter, more rational day is dawning in our relationship with prairie dogs. --SW

Resources:

Black-tailed prairie dogs return to historical site in Arizona

The Role of Prairie Dogs as a Keystone Species: Response to Stapp

Black-footed Ferrets Return to Mexico

Wired: Rodents' Talk Isn't Just "Cheep"

Arizona Daily Star: Can we talk? Prairie dogs do

More resources

Even more resources

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The good, the bad, and the bugly

Hummingbird numbers are rising. Though there seems to be plenty of natural nectar from both native and garden sources, they're hitting our feeders hard. This gorgeous Broad-billed has been one of our regulars this summer:The "monsoons" have been generous this year, cloaking southeastern Arizona in an abundance of green rarely seen in the desert. Unfortunately, some of that green consists of weedy annuals such as the pigweed (Amaranthus palmeri) that grows so fast that in a few days of inattention it's shot up to five feet and is already setting seed. It likes disturbed soil, and we've been disturbing the soil on our property pretty seriously lately in an effort to control the highly invasive Ailanthus (an epic struggle involving our cars and a tow cable as well as garden tools and herbicides). At least pigweeds are edible, though I'm not sure collecting enough seeds to make candy from is worth the time, sweat, and prickled fingers.

In between the weeds, though, our garden is blooming like crazy. The "Red Bed," a sheltered corner of the yard where we've concentrated our less desert-adapted hummingbird flowers, is pretty colorful right now, with Desert Columbine (Aquilegia desertorum), Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), and seven varieties of salvias in bloom. Here's Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips':

All four flowers in the photo above are on the same plant, which is the main attraction of this unusual "sport." The flowers are usually bicolored but may be solid red or solid white, apparently determined by temperature (individual flowers don't change color like a mood ring, though). Right now our plant has all three. It's not a huge hit with the hummers, but it's still worth having around just for this bizarre trait.

The Mountain Sage (Salvia regla, acquired from salvia maven Rich Dufrense), two varieties of Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha), and native Transpecos Morning-glories (Ipomoea cristulata) should be blooming soon, but I'm starting to lose hope of ever seeing the alien-looking flowers of the Aztec (or Jacobean) Lilies (Sprekelia formosissima) given to us by a friend. Our sunny front walk is also bordered with flowers, including two varieties of wild-type cannas (Canna sp.) and four types of lantana (grown especially for butterflies).

The rains have also given insect populations a big boost and, like the plants, not just the nice ones. The "sabertoothed gnats" (a type of black fly, apparently) are on the decline now, but a couple of weeks ago we didn't dare go out without full-body protection (the damned things act like DEET doesn't exist). We haven't found any kissing bugs in the house since I posted on them a few weeks back, but we're still getting bitten occasionally. Grasshopper populations are on the rise, too, just as our tomatoes, peppers, and squash are finally starting to set fruit. Then there's the carpenter bees that slash open the salvia flowers, ruining them for the hummingbirds and butterflies (I can't find the reference just now, but they can see red better than other bees and feed on other red flowers such as ocotillo).

But the bug bounty isn't all bad - we've also got lots of butterflies, White-lined Sphinx Moths, and occasional surprises. This week this formidable creature dropped in for some watermelon:
This is a Long-jawed Longhorn Beetle, Trachyderes mandibularis, the first we've seen in our yard. (Addendum: He can fly, even with that outlandish headgear, but it's like an elk taking wing.) The brilliant green beetle behind it is a Fig Beetle or Green June Beetle, Cotinis mutabilis.

With all the rain, our little water features aren't getting much use. I miss all the activity from the dry season, when one corner of our yard was like a popular neighborhood pub. Here are a few highlights:

Juvenile Costa's hummingbird bathing in the solar fountain


Male Bronzed Cowbird

Male Varied Bunting (a first for our yard)

Male Pyrrhuloxia

The hummingbird and butterfly action should get even better as we slide toward September, and there may be other surprises in store. Stay tuned!

--SW

Monday, June 23, 2008

Double dipping on BBBB quotes

Google Alerts tipped me off to a mention of SABO in a post over at sustainablog.org. Checking it out, I discovered that contributor Justin Van Kleeck repeated my quote from Mike Klesius's January 2007 National Geographic article on hummingbirds. Scrolling down, I was even more delighted to see that the first comment paraphrased one of Tom's favorite observations about hummingbirds as quoted by Richard Conniff in "So tiny, so sweet--so mean," an article originally published in Smithsonian Magazine (September 2000) and condensed and reprinted by Reader's Digest (May 2001).

You can read the Nat Geo article here, but I couldn't find the full Smithsonian article on line. Too bad, since it earned author Richard Conniff the John Burroughs Association essay award for 2000. You can read part of it here. (This should come as no surprise, but I was the other guide Conniff quoted in his opening paragraphs.) --SW

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Kiss kiss, bang bang

Mid-June is a perfect time for this Zooillogix post on kissing bugs. These stealthy stowaways emerge each summer from our local White-throated Woodrat (pack rat) nests (of which there's one under our bathroom floor) to invade southern Arizona homes in search of fresh blood.

Kissing bugs (genus Triatoma) are on a very short list of invertebrates that we terminate with extreme prejudice whenever and wherever they're encountered. Even bark scorpions get a pass if we find them in remote parts of the yard, but kissing bugs always get swatted, stomped, or crushed in a handy paper towel. And we do keep those paper towels handy, because offing them can be a thoroughly disgusting experience. Even if they're not bloated from a recent blood meal, they produce a powerful defensive stink like other members of their suborder, Heteroptera. You do NOT want to get that nauseating reek on your skin or clothes. There are three species in southern Arizona, but I never pause long enough to key them out before sending them to that Great Pack Rat Midden in the Sky.

They're active mainly at night and often bite sleeping humans on or near the mouth (hence the name). The bite is virtually painless but can cause severe allergic reactions, and droppings shed at the scene of the crime can contaminate the wound with the trypanosomes that cause Chagas disease, a mainly tropical infection that kills thousands of people in Latin America every year. Though the most effective vectors for the disease seem to be South America species of Triatoma, there have been a handful of recent cases in the southern U.S. The organism gets concentrated in the bugs' feces; in fact, the traditional method to test for Chagas is to let fresh, uninfected kissing bugs bite the patient, then check the bugs' droppings for the trypanosome. Chagas has even been suggested as a contributor to Charles Darwin's chronic health problems.

These nasty bloodsuckers are macabre harbingers of our late summer "monsoon." The increase in heat and humidity really seems to bring them out, so it's no surprise that in the last 36 hours we encountered the first two kissing bugs of the season inside the house. The first landed right in front of me on my drawing board at about midnight; the second casually waddled out from under our claw-foot bathtub this morning. Only the second had dined recently, though three or four itchy, swollen spots on my feet suggest that the first had already partaken of my juiciness and was looking for a refill.

CRAP! Make that three--one just came buzzing in to land on the computer hutch while I was typing. Thank goodness they're such clumsy fliers, but now I'm paranoid about how many might be sneaking around under the desk, waiting for me to put my juicy toes back on the floor. *shudder*

Because I refuse to let one live long enough to photograph it intact, here are a bunch of pix from Bug Guide: Genus Triatoma

And here's a whole bunch of skin-crawlingly fascinating information from the University of Arizona: The Kissing Bug Project

--SW

Update: By 11:30 p.m. the body count for the season was up to four--not a good sign, since we rarely find more than a dozen in the house per summer. It wasn't easy getting to sleep, listening for the dry buzz of wings and hard little thop of another six-legged vampire homing in on its prey.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Heavy weather

We've just endured a wretched three days here in beautiful southeastern Arizona. A fierce low pressure system brought savage winds, rain, sleet, hail, and snow to our little corner of paradise. The winds started when temperatures were running slightly above normal (hot, in other words) and humidities very low, which played heck with tender young leaves. Gusts up to 58 mph were recorded at the Bisbee-Douglas airport, and a substantial portion of our roof is scattered over our yard and neighboring properties. Our newly planted vegetables and many of our flowers look like they've been sandblasted.

Then on Wednesday night the temperatures took a nosedive. Thursday morning's bird walk in Miller Canyon was seriously chilly, but there was lots of activity as tired, hungry birds tried to recover from the wind and cold, and the deep canyon protected us from the winds. I felt especially bad for the Spotted Owl family 50+ feet up in a huge fir -- their nest was swaying so much that they could have used scopolamine patches. (I so wish I'd had a digiscoping camera to capture the fuzzy little face poking our from under its mama's wing.) Back at Beatty's Guest Ranch, hungry hungry hummingbirds, including two White-eareds and a Lucifer x Calypte hybrid, put on quite a show. [Subsequent observations revealed this bird to be a Lucifer-like hybrid, probably Broad-tailed x Costa's.]

The winds raged on through Thursday night, the staccato beat of rain, sleet, and hail against our bedroom window making it hard to sleep. It dried out a bit yesterday morning, but the cold, gusty conditions continued through the afternoon and into the night. As we made our way to yesterday afternoon's hummingbird banding session in Carr Canyon, the peaks of the Huachuca Mountains were thickly capped with snow, something we've never seen this late in the season in our 20 years in Arizona. Our banding crew was bundled up like Inuits except for me -- my burliest turtleneck sweater and woolly socks weren't quite warm enough, so I ended up borrowing a jacket from one of the volunteers. The weather had the birds in a much less cooperative mood than usual, but gentle application of warm breath seemed to calm them down. A male Broad-billed, two male Magnificents, two female Anna's, a female Black-chinned, and a premature escapee male Blue-throated were our rewards for soldiering through.

At least the storm brought some precipitation, which should compensate a bit for the destructiveness of the winds and cold. I'm expecting to see a renewal of nesting activity over the next week or so as birds that lost their eggs and nestlings start from scratch. A pair of Greater Roadrunners in lower Carr Canyon seemed to be getting a head start yesterday afternoon--mating just yards from the road and totally unfazed when two carloads of bird banders pulled up to gawk at them! --SW

Friday, February 22, 2008

Treasures of the Sierra Madre: Las Guacamayas

One of the advantages to living on the Mexican border is that we occasionally get to cross it. Our latest favorite destination is Madera, Chihuahua, home of the world's largest remaining flock of endangered Thick-billed Parrots.I first visited Madera in September 2002 at the invitation of colleague Noel Snyder, who was a major player in the ultimately unsuccessful attempt to reintroduce the species into Arizona. When I got home, Tom asked, "So, how was the trip?" I replied by showing him dozens of photos of parrots, nesting Eared Quetzals, and much more. His next words, once he caught his breath, were, "When do we leave?" Two weeks later we were back in Madera and already planning tours through SABO with the parrots and Eared Quetzals ("Ps & Qs") as the headliners.

One of our traveling companions on last July's tour was conservation biologist, author, and Princeton University professor David S. Wilcove (fourth from the right in the photo at left). David's encounters with the guacamayas, as Aldo Leopold called them, inspired him to write a thoughful article on the species' past, present, and future for the Winter 2008 issue of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's magazine, Living Bird.

The best news in this article for the parrots and those of us who love them is that the American Bird Conservancy and ProNatura have been hard at work negotiating protection for their most important nesting areas. With on-the-ground conservation efforts and the added economic incentives of ecotourism, there may hope for the future of these gaudy, raucous treasures of the Sierra Madre. --SW

Re: Verse

In case you missed it, closet poet Tom won WildBird On The Fly's limerick contest with this evocative bit of bird verse:

A marvelous bird is the Dipper
He swims under water like Flipper
Like a little gray Robin
His rear end a-bobbin'
He seems to be feeling quite chipper.

--SW

Monday, February 04, 2008

Art with heart

Congratulations to our friend and fellow Arizona birder Anne Peyton, who's been honored as Conservation Artist for February 2008 by Artists for Conservation for "artistic excellence and extraordinary dedication to conservation." We couldn't agree more!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Higher Moth

Bisbee has become famous (notorious?) for its counterculture New Year's celebrations (think Buffalo Bill's Wild West meets Burning Man), and 2008 was one of the best yet as pyrotechnic performance troupe Flam Chen wowed the crowds with some advanced moth-matics.

For Tom and me, the festivities began at the home of friends Aaron and Megan about 40 miles away in Sierra Vista, where time slipped away so fast that we didn't make it to Old Bisbee until just before midnight. The historic district was jammed with revelers, but we lucked out to find a recently vacated parking space a few blocks from the celebration. As we dashed up stairs and down alleys, we could see a cluster of huge white orbs rising over City Park and hear the joyful noise of the crowd backed by a primitive pulsing beat.

We arrived just after the stroke of midnight to a phantasmagorical vision: Floating above the park was a performer in a Luna Moth costume, bouyed into the night sky by helium-filled balloons. From her mask two brilliant blue eyes glowed, and tiny matching lights flickered along the curve of her wings. On the stage below, stilt walkers also dressed as moths (with ostrich-feather antennae) waved flare-tipped staffs and twirled flaming pots on chains, drawing ecstatic shrieks from the crowd. Words don't do justice to this other-worldly spectacle, but you can get a taste of the experience from this video shot and edited by Tom and posted to YouTube for your enjoyment:



What we didn't know until reading this morning's paper is that this was a pro bono performance. Flam Chen's fee for a slightly more elaborate "typical" show would have been $20,000, but they performed free of charge because troupe leaders Nadia (who portrayed the moth) and Paul Weir have enjoyed past New Year's celebrations in Bisbee. Costs were defrayed by a grant acquired by the Bisbee Arts Commission that financed the finale balloons and the helium that floated them.

So thanks, Flam Chen, for helping our little town ring in 2008 in wildly psychedelic style. We'll be counting the 365 days until Bisbee welcomes you back!