Nature Feed

What the heck is up Mother Nature? I know we humans are an annoying bunch, but do you really have to keep whacking us? In less than 24 hours, strong earthquakes have rattled the East Coast and the Rocky Mountains region. The 5.3 temblor that shook Colorado Monday night was the strongest recorded there in more than a century. It also was felt by residents of Kansas and New Mexico. Then this afternoon, a 5.9 quake centered in Virginia prompted evacuation of buildings in the nation's capital and shook folks from North Carolina to New Hampshire. It was the strongest... Read more →

Regular readers know that in our precious free time, the hubby and I go birding. We started following birds recreationally when we lived in Maryland, and most of our vacations are a combination of attending some sporting event and visiting a bird habitat. The Midatlantic was a great training ground, with the mountains to the west, the spectacular Chesapeake Bay and Maryland's great Eastern Shore to the east and a nice variety of birding spots in between and within easy driving distance. I'm talking about you, Hawk Mountain, Pa. While Maryland residents, we also took frequent vacations to Florida for... Read more →

National parks need crash taxes

The presumption and idiocy of so many people still astounds me, the most recent examples coming from folks who think they can do any wild thing and be safe, or least be rescued if they aren't, because of their high-tech connectivity. But what many are doing is abusing accessibility and running up national park costs -- costs that all taxpayers eventually pay. As an ever more wired and interconnected public visits the parks in rising numbers, reports the New York Times, technology often figures into mishaps: People with cell phones call rangers from mountaintops to request refreshments or a guide;... Read more →

As a long-time birder and a bit of an opera buff, I got a kick out of the story that a U.K. woman who shared my interests had left most of her sizable fortune to New York's Metropolitan Opera and a British nature charity. Even better, there's a tax connection. The bequests to the Met and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust came from the $16.3 million estate of Mona Webster (left), whom the New York Times reports was at one time during her 96 years a clerk in the British tax office. But wait. There's still more about taxes. A... Read more →

Yes, it's an old joke about blood-sucking IRS agents. So maybe that's why it seems so fitting that a tax lawyer has just published "The New Annotated Dracula." Leslie S. Klinger is a Los Angeles tax attorney with clients in the entertainment industry. You can insert your own Hollywood blood-letting wise cracks here. After his office closes, however, Klinger turns his attention to genre literature. The Wall Street Journal reports that Klinger's closer look at Bram Stoker's famous vampire novel is the tax lawyer's second such annotation. He previously edited the three volume, 2,700-page "The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes." The... Read more →

Insurance tips for storm victims

I was delighted to see that Sanibel, the lovely island on Florida's Gulf Coast that I was worried about in this earlier post, came through Tropical Storm Fay unscathed. Many other Sunshine State residents weren't so lucky. Gerry Willis, personal finance writer for CNN, has some insurance tips for those storm-battered folks. You can watch a video version here. Elsewhere on CNN, a Willis article from about a year ago looks at the damages that a lot of homeowner polices don't cover. That's always good, although very distressing, to know. Flimjo also makes that same point in his post, Lessons... Read more →

Tornadoes and taxes ... too soon!

I hate writing today's blog item. I knew I would have to eventually, but it's way too soon. I'm talking about the tornadoes that tore through the South on Tuesday. It was the worst twister outbreak in more than 20 years. There's nothing any of us can do to console those who lost family and friends. And there's very little we can do for those whose losses were confined to property. But we try anyway. The quickest way to reach out is to give to a charitable group that provides assistance to storm victims. These organizations, such as the American... Read more →

Free Tom!

Actually, it was May (pictured there at right with Dubya) and Flower who were pardoned, if not actually freed, this year in the annual pre-Thanksgiving event at the White House. Every year, representatives of the National Turkey Federation and the farmer who donates the turkey (or, this year, turkeys) join the President in the White House Rose Garden. The prez gives his "happy holiday" talk and pardons the birds for the assembled photographers and TV cameramen. You can read about this year's ceremony here. That page has more pictures, as well as audio and video links if you're already that... Read more →

Sand dollars

The U.S. was spared the worst of Hurricane Noel, but the system did inflict a lot of damage on East Coast beaches. First those in South Florida got whacked for days as Noel sat over Cuba and then the Bahamas. Now that he's finally moved, some of the high surf he'll produce could cause problems for North and South Carolina and New England shorelines. And that means problems for beachfront property owners. A story in today's New York Times examines beaches and erosion solutions, all of which are shrinking. According to the article: "Over the last decade or more, federal... Read more →

Hello … hello … hello
from Santa Elena Canyon

That headline is my admittedly weak attempt to textually relate an echo. Why? Because when we were in the canyon below yesterday, the echo effect was great. That's Santa Elena Canyon, in the far southwest section of Big Bend National Park. The wall to the right is Texas; to the left, Mexico. The terrain here along the Rio Grande River is nice and flat, unlike the place up-river where we stopped on Thursday when were driving to the park. There the bank fell off about 10 inches, but I was determined to put my toes into the waters dividing Mexico... Read more →

I and the Bird #60

David at Search and Serendipity is the host for the 60th I and the Bird. This particular birding carnival is notable not just because David is a fellow Texan, but also because he's produced the first birding blog carnival to be hosted by video. Amid the more than 30 postings from birders worldwide, David gives up four videos. Be sure to view each, including the outtake reel. But the core of every I and the Bird is, of course, the collection of fantastic reports from birding bloggers, or blogging birders. Among my favorites this time are: The photo blog from... Read more →

Who hoo, hoo-hoo, hoo is there?

Backyard birding continues to be spectacular of late, or in this latest instance, of early. Around 5 a.m. I woke up and decided I needed a snack. Trying not to wake the hubby, I kept the lights off as I crept downstairs and made my way carefully into the kitchen. Just as I was about to head to the fridge, I head the owl. It was a great-horned owl, probably male judging from our Peterson Field Guide's description of the call pattern. The lights were still off, so I eased my way to the back door and stepped out on... Read more →

Happy wren, happy me

I love birding because seeing any bird, exotic interloper or every day neighbor, makes me smile. So does hearing them. I'm not the best when it comes to identifying birds by their songs or calls. But one I do know is the Carolina Wren. Part of that familiarity is because the species has been a regular visitor to our backyard shrubs since we moved to our Austin home. And this afternoon, one of those wrens was in full, fine voice. The exuberant little singer even popped out of the foliage just long enough to give the hubby and me a... Read more →

Tax help for fire's aftermath

It seems like the whole world is burning. I typed "wildfire" into Google and was stunned. I fully expected to see something about the tragedy in Greece and the Idaho situation here in the U.S. But I had no idea that a stubborn blaze in Southern California has burned more than 375 square miles since July 4. Or that forests in Michigan's Upper Peninsula are ablaze. And a portion of Crimea might be evacuated because of wildfires. In Montana, the governor has called a special legislative session for next week so that lawmakers can come up with more firefighting money.... Read more →

Congratulations to I and the Bird

I and the Bird, the wonderful biweekly collection of the best that the many birding blogs have to offer, is celebrating its second anniversary. Congratulations to Mike and my fellow avian aficionados who've made this birding carnival such a success. Unfortunately, the hubby and I have been too busy, and it's getting a bit too hot here in Central Texas, to do much birding. Plus, we had that horrible rainy spell. So I don't have an entry in this momentous edition. But I am very thankful that through it, I can cyberbird. The hubby and I also are grateful that... Read more →

Thank you and goodbye,
Lady Bird Johnson

Another fine Texas woman is no longer with us. But her legacy -- a love of and dedication to protecting our natural resources and beauty -- remains. Thank you Mrs. Johnson. Every bluebonnet in Texas and wildflower across the rest of the country will forever remind us of how much you meant to us. Austin's local NBC affiliate, KXAN, has a nice tribute to Mrs. Johnson. If you want to help continue the First Lady's environmental efforts, donate to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Read more →

Marble Falls mess

A special Flood Edition of the Lower Colorado River Authority's newsletter just showed up in my e-mail box, so I wanted to share some of its information as an update to Friday's flood posting. The LCRA e-publication has these stunning aerial photos of some Central Texas dam floodgates. Click on the photos, and you'll get video. There's also a list of the more than 80 flood events that have hit the lower Colorado River basin since the 1800s, as well as information on the recreational activity ban at most area lakes through the July 4th holiday. Major mess: Folks in... Read more →

Sleepy in Seattle

That's me, since I got up at 4:30 a.m. Central time Monday to head to the Pacific Northwest for three days of Taxpayer Advisory Panel (TAP) meetings. As it turned out, I could have slept a bit later, since traffic to the Austin airport was no problem. But I didn't know that, so I got up at o-dark-thirty. Once at the airport, however, travel to the actual plane was not so smooth. First, at the self-check-in kiosk, I couldn't find my reservation. I was using the first confirmation sheet the TAP office sent me; apparently, they canceled it and rebooked.... Read more →

The monument to the Texians who won the Battle of San Jacinto, securing Texas' independence from Mexico on April 21, 1836. Sure we became the Republic of Texas on March 2, 1836, when the fledging government declared independence from Mexico. Then came the hard part. None of the new Texas patriots survived the siege of the Alamo four days later. It was just as grim on March 27, when more than 350 Texas Republic soldiers, who had surrendered at Goliad, were massacred. That did it. Enough is enough. You just can't do things like that. And we proved it at... Read more →

Bluebonnet break

March here in Central Texas was unusually wet, but few folks are complaining. We've had enough of the drought. Thankfully, the 6-plus inches of rain we got last month have refilled area lakes and, just as important, made this a blooming good early spring. Wildflowers, especially the Lone Star State's official bluebonnets, are popping up like crazy everywhere. When the hubby and I take our neighborhood walks, we spot them in dozens of yards, including our own. I took the shots you see sprinkled in this posting this weekend. They are of some of the bluebonnets in our front yard.... Read more →