All means all

19 April, 2015               All means all

I used to have a boss who had this sign hanging on her office wall: 



And when you start a nature photography and cataloging project called “Every living thing,” that means every living thing. When you start that project in December, as I did, there are not a lot of living things in evidence. Now that it’s April there are living things everywhere! Isn’t it great? And it’s not even May yet! 

Allow me to begin with a picture of a Prothonotary warbler (Protonotaria citrea ) I took at Pony Pasture on Thursday at noon. This image will brighten up anything:

Prothonotary warbler at Pony Pasture

Prothonotary warbler at Pony Pasture

I have a subscription online bird guide called “Birds of North America” (BNA) also by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It goes into a bit more depth than All About Birds. BNA goes on to say about the Prothonotary warbler that it “resembles the bright yellow robes of papal clerks (prothonotaries) in the Roman Catholic church.” In the same space it notes that it “also holds a place in recent U.S. history by being partly responsible for the conviction of alleged spy Alger Hiss and the corresponding political rise of Richard Nixon.

Although Hiss repeatedly denied ever knowing Whittaker Chambers, the ex- communist who accused him of espionage, Chambers had testified that the men were friends. To verify this, Chambers admitted knowledge about many personal issues, including that Hiss was an amateur ornithologist who had been excited at seeing a Prothonotary Warbler along the Potomac River. When asked later, Hiss independently admitted that he had seen the warbler along the river. As a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee investigating the Hiss allegations, freshman congressman Richard Nixon played a prominent role in proving that the two men knew each other and that Hiss had perjured himself.” You just never know what you’re going to come up with when you start watching birds.

I’ve been reading a lot about trees since I began my Every living thing project. This afternoon – after Evelyn and the dogs and I got home from Pony Pasture – I finished a book called Seeing Trees: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees by Nancy Ross Hugo and Robert Llewellyn. In the Afterword Ms. Hugo quotes a woman named Mary Newcomb saying “It seems to me that the pleasure is in the finding out, not in being told the facts.” Ms. Hugo later goes on to write that “what gets me up in the morning is not the new information now catalogued in my brain but the questions for which I still don’t have answers and phenomena I still haven’t seen.” The warbler made me think of that. I walked into the woods on Thursday just like I always do. Took some pictures, came home, did a bit of superficial research. As a result of that – how could you make this up? – I now know about papal clerks, alleged spies, and the rise of Richard Nixon. It is unimaginable that this will ever become not-fascinating.

Here is a bird I photographed this week not at Pony Pasture – but I will. I photographed this Red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus ) in front of the Tuckahoe YMCA off of Patterson Avenue:

Red-winged blackbird at the YMCA!

Red-winged blackbird at the YMCA!

Please pardon another brief digression. The Afterword of Seeing Trees is worth the price of the book by itself. Ms. Hugo talks with a birder named Linda Cole about missing trees that are obvious. Then once you see them, you see them everywhere. It is amazing how often that happens birding. Ms. Cole says ““Once you know it, it’s got neon on it.” With birds, they’re invisible, then suddenly they’re not. It’s fun.

But – this post is called All means all and that’s because I’m cataloging the “boring” stuff too – although boredom is in the eye of the beholder. This week I’ve photographed dandelions and poison ivy and violets along with several other common plants. Because All means all. My friend (the James River Park System’s friend) Betsy recommended I be on the lookout for Cutleaf toothwort, Star chickweed, Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) (invasive) and Woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata). I “found” the toothwort but I “lost” it before I could get a picture (that means I forgot where it was). I’ll get it when I stumble across it again. But I have gotten the Garlic mustard and the Woodland phlox. 

Garlic mustard

Garlic mustard

Woodland phlox

Woodland phlox

All this time you thought they were only in your front yard.

All this time you thought they were only in your front yard.

Violets - no shortage on the banks of our lovely river!

Violets – no shortage on the banks of our lovely river!

Here is another plant that always thrives at Pony Pasture. Not many people have nice things to say about poison ivy. Lots of birds enjoy it. Perhaps we could convert it to bio fuel: 

Poison ivy climbing a tree

Poison ivy climbing a tree. Poison ivy always strikes me as disconcertingly eager. Some plants look shy. Poison ivy is not one of them. 

I’ve taken a thousand hikes at Pony Pasture and today, Sunday, April 19, 2015 was the first time I ever knew there was wisteria in the park. Crazy. It is so gorgeous and smells so heavenly. This just in – thanks for the heads up Betsy: this is not Wisteria frutescens, a native Wisteria. This is an invasive that doesn’t belong at Pony Pasture. It’s either Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) or Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda). Whichever it is, it is on the list to be eradicated from Pony Pasture. After Betsy tipped me off to correct my misidentification I did more research. I found an article from a January, 2011 e-publication called the James River News Hub. The article was called HandsOn volunteers helping to restore Pony Pasture’s native plants. In that article I found this quote from the inimitable Ralph White: “People’s hedges have washed down here and settled during annual floods,” said James River Park manager Ralph White. “Density of invasive species has a negative impact on native species. Sunlight cannot reach the native plants, the unwanted plants catch all the light.” That guy is a born teacher:   



That’s not a great picture for identifying wisteria – it hangs in bunches like grapes. But sometimes hack photographers like me all in love with their pictures too much and just decide to put them up. What can I say. 

And just because I’ve overloaded on plants a little bit this post, here’s one more bird. It’s a subpar picture but I like Red-bellied woodpeckers (Melanerpes carolinus) a lot. And I’ve been unable to get any high quality images so far this season. This is an adult male:

Adult male Red-bellied woodpecker

Adult male Red-bellied woodpecker

Maybe I’ll get a better one next week! I hope your week is a great one! All best,


PS I am inexpert at identification – of plants and of animals. I do my best to put up correct  information but my accuracy rate is considerably <100%. I encourage any corrections either in the blog comment section or by email if you have my address. If I learn I have posted incorrect data I will revise it immediately. Thanks in advance for the help! 

About Jay McLaughlin

I am a rehabilitation counselor. I have many friends with autism and traumatic brain injuries. They help me learn new things constantly. I hike with dogs at the James River in Richmond - a lot. I've completed an Iron distance triathlon a year for 11 years. My most recent was in Wilmington, NC in November, 2013. I currently compete in mid-distance triathlons. And work and hike and take pictures and write and eat.
This entry was posted in Birds, Flowers, James River, Pony Pasture, Rivers and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to All means all

  1. Clare T says:

    What GREAT photography! im a total bird lover and in search of the blue bird of happiness – so if you do see those down at the river, i’m putting in my request! only been lucky enough to see them from a distance, but did find a blue feather one day and put it in my treasure box.

    hope you have been well

    happy rain / happy spring

    • Hi Clare! I’m so glad you enjoy my photography. I certainly am enjoying taking the pictures! Enjoy your spring too! We’re looking forward to seeing you at the river soon!

  2. Jean Yerian says:

    Jay, I’m very glad “all means all.” I’ve not had the best of winters and even managed to fall and break 2-3 ribs three weeks ago today. Every time I read your blog posts and see your wonderful pictures I feel like I’ve gotten out and been to Pony Pasture with you. Thanks, my friend.

    • Hi Jean! Sorry to hear about your ribs – I guess it’s been four weeks now. Not much you can do with ribs but wait. Not much fun. I hope they’re feeling better all the time!

      Have a great day,


  3. Katie Phalen says:

    Wisteria is a complete thug. It’s gorgeous and smells heavenly, but it can cover a tree almost like kudzu, and it’s at least as heavy, enough to pull a tree over eventually. I love to see it, as long as it’s in other people’s yards.

    • It’s hard to reconcile a gorgeous, heavenly smelling flower with thuggishness! But it certainly is destructive. My friend Betsy holds it in perhaps even lower esteem than you. Honeysuckle will bloom soon, speaking of gorgeous/heavenly smelling flowers that can destroy trees. I even wrote about that in this week’s (4/26/2015) blog post! Talk with you soon,


  4. Pingback: Fascinating / boring | NEWFAZE

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