Monday, May 31, 2010

Magnificent Acre- Bald Eagle, Lesser Yellowlegs, Eastern Pheobe, Pileated Woodpecker

Yesterday was a fantastic day. The weather was warm, in the high seventies, we are all healthy, including our dog, Perry, and I sold a mess of photographs. What could have been better? On my way home from delivering the photographs with a nice check burning a hole in my pocket, I stopped to check in on the Bald eagle's nest. The parents were around, but not on the nest at first. The one seen here was perched just off  to the side of the nest in the same tree. Under the nest, the grass and weeds are splattered heavily with eagle poo. It looks like a Jackson Pollock nature painting. I found a large feather stuck quill end into the poo like a javelin had been launched from on high. This eagle was panting because it was pretty hot in the sun and quite humid. I passed under the eagle's nest in pursuit of this female Pileated woodpecker. Believe it or not, I was more interested in getting a shot of her than the Bald eagle. I've taken lots of shots of perched eagles, even these same ones, enough so that I'm kind of bored with it. I need an eagle to do something interesting like fight with another bird, fly off with a sheep or perhaps my neighbor's dog. I have found getting a good image of a Pileated to be more of a challenge. First of all, there seem to be fewer of them than eagles, at least around here. Then, they are quite wary of people and fly away the second one moves. Also, being woodpeckers, they are always in places where the light is dim and there are lots of tree branches in the way. Their favorite food is Carpenter ants. Where I took this photo is a lumber mill with decades of milled wood stacked in the woods decomposing. It's a Carpenter ant factory. I have heard the loud "kuk kuk keeekeeekeekee kuk kuk" call in those woods before but never been able to get close enough, until today. This one was so busy bashing huge chunks of bark from this dead White pine that it didn't notice me. I could hear the slabs of bark falling from high up and followed the noise through the woods. So the bird wouldn't hear me, I only moved when I heard the woodpecker banging and the bark crashing to the ground. This Pileated was so vigorous about getting food in this fairly small area of trees that I think she has a nest with hatchlings nearby (of course, that's my next photography mission). My hands were trembling and my heart was pounding with each step I took advancing on her, sneaking along like Pocahontas with the feather jammed into my  pony tail. I have image stabilization on my lens, but it can only overcome so much movement. I was lucky to get good, crisp shots! I think the feather gave me good luck, carried me swiftly and surely of foot, silently through the forest. Ya. Okay. Next fantasy. After I had my fill of that,
The Pileated Woodpecker is our largest woodpecker at almost 17" tall. This one is female. Someone will probably jump out of the trees here to tell me that this isn't a female.

I headed back to my car. On a spit of rock sticking into the Kennebec River, I saw these three Lesser Yellowlegs. I'm going with 'Lesser' versus 'Greater' (not more) Yellowlegs because they look more delicate, with thinner necks and longer legs. I'm probably wrong about this, too. Yellowlegs, both kinds, are a migratory wading bird common here in the summer. It's breeding season so see how very yellow their legs are? Quite flashy! While I was shooting them, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. This Eastern Phoebe landed on a piece of driftwood. I had seen it a couple of times flitting around the area with insects in its bill, so I'm assuming that it is also nesting nearby. There was a pair of Song sparrows also nesting there and Black And White Warblers, too. The area of woods sits on a point of land between the Kennebec River and Winnegance Lake. There is a good sized marsh on one side. It is a magnificent acre of wildlife.
A Woodchuck popped up onto this driftwood log barely 60 feet from the Yellowlegs. It was staring me down and humming, "How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?" When one of the eagles came back to its nest, this guy dove for cover. Maybe it's a she with a litter nearby, too. That seemed to be the order of the day. It seemed quite incongruous to see a Woodchuck alongside Yellowlegs. In the left foreground of the photo, you can see dreaded Poison Ivy. I was wearing sandals because I had gone to sell photographs, not shoot wildlife. It is fortunately my practice to always look where I'm walking or I would have stepped into it along with that pile of eagle poo. I did get a Dog tick inside my shirt, too. These photographs were worth all of it.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Battle Eagle - Raven Whoops on Bald Eagle

While Weeding For Dollars here in The Burg, I spied this Raven picking on a Bald eagle. I did not see that there was food involved, but the nest of the eagle is not too far from where this event took place. The eagle has hatched at least one egg. Even so, the Raven started the fight. In the photo of the center of the collage you can see that the eagle has its beak open fighting back. Ouch!

Friday, May 28, 2010

I Went To Prison - Big Box Birds

A few weeks ago, I went to the Maine State Prison. I went there to attend the graduation ceremony of a friend who had just completed training as a Corrections Officer. After I got home, I delighted in calling my other friends and saying that I had gone to prison that day. I imagined them quickly checking their caller IDs to see where I was calling from and thinking, "Oh God, I hope she isn't going to ask me for bail money!" I'm sure some of them also thought things along the lines of "It's about time they locked her up!" I never went in to the actual prison, only the administration building. There were speeches, cake and coffee and a slide show about prison life as it is today. It was all very benign. Nonetheless, I was moved and found it deeply thought provoking. First of all, my friend, the new Corrections Officer, is a woman and the only woman in her group of graduates. Many of her fellow C.O.s fit the stereotype of a prison guard in that they are big, burly guys. Two of them are former United States Marines. I'm told that one is never an ex-Marine, only ever a former Marine, "Once a Marine, always a Marine." In the case of those new C.O.s, that is definitely the case. My friend, however, is a quiet, soft spoken, very gentle woman. She doesn't swear nor raise her voice. She has never been married nor had children, so prior to her prison guard training, she never had any reason to swear or holler, either. During her C.O. training, she had to learn to scream which did not come naturally to her. The Maine State Correctional Facility, which houses only men, takes great pride in being a place that is safe for the inmates. As much as possible, they try to make a kind of normal life for the men who live there. The hope is that when they are released, they will have a better grasp of how to live with other people without committing crimes. If they never leave the prison, they hopefully won't hurt anyone inside either and can live with dignity and the respect of the other men with whom they'll spend their lives - fellow inmates and C.O.s. My friend's inherent gentleness is representative of the new corrections mindset.  The prison is new with a modern campus design without prison walls. When it was built and they moved the prisoners from the old facility, they not only left behind the scenes from The Shawshank Redemption (which was filmed there), they left behind a certain barbarism. The men who live in the prison are human beings, after all, even those who have behaved like monstrous animals. We owe it to our own sense of dignity and self respect to treat them as human beings. Unlike the inmates, I got to go home. On my way, I turned on my car radio with the volume high for a song I liked. I rolled down all the windows and sang along loudly, because I could.


A man in a cell
will learn
to live
the simple rules
and swirling hell
his head.
The window is high
"Can't see nothin',"
he said.
Fist clenched at his side,
He must look upward
to see
the sky.
His time will teach him to see
it all,
meaning in the clouds,
the quick, single dove.
His hand will open
he will
learn love.

                                                             Robin Riley Robinson

House Sparrows are widespread in this country though they were only introduced here in the 1800s. They are concidered a pest because they eat agricultural products like grain seeds and spread diseases to humans, like West Nile Virus. There's no law against killing them and lots of programs are employed to do so across the country. One of the reasons they are ubiquitous is that they adapt readily to living around people, even taking advantage of things like dumpsters and nesting sites. This pair was nesting under a corrugated tin roof of a car dealership. House Sparrows are what I call the Big Box Birds or Wallmart Birds. They are the birds you hear and see high up in the warehouse rafters and chirpping around in the lawn and garden centers of the big box stores. They poop on merchandise and rip open bags of dog food and you guessed it: bird seed, too. Even birders don't care about the Big Box Birds because of the problems they cause other birds. But, the House Sparrows don't know any of this; they are just being birds. They fly; they are acrobatic in flight and shenanagins employed to get food; they sing socially, not just for mating; they are monogamous, and they mate for life.

For more on the Maine State Prison, click here ,or here.
Check this Wikipedia link to learn more about House Sparrows

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Redstart Riot - American Redstarts

Yesterday was a hard day. I was grieving the loss of  our little dog, Easy. Someday, I'll tell about that, but for today, I can't. I'm just too raw. After we buried her, I went off to Weed For Dollars to get my head out of some of the pain. I hoped that I would see some birds or beasts that might help to heal my broken heart. Nature never disappoints me; it was a terrific birding day here in The Burg. I'm only showing the American Redstarts for this post as to show all of what I saw would be just plain gushing. My father always used to tell me that anything worth doing was worth doing to excess. I subscribe to that most of the time, but if I showed the whole day's birds, you'd all think I'd gone on a birding bender to drown my sorrows and you would worry about me.
   At Alliquippa, here in Phippsburg, along the road is a hedgerow. It's an enormous, sensuous tangle of honeysuckle, lilacs, sumac and wild black cherry, all in bloom right now at once. The fragrance is deafening, yes, deafening. You heard me right. It's like trying to breath honey, an elixir of the sweetest, vanilla scented kind. Standing in it, I was awash with the perfume and couldn't quite tell if the buzzing I heard was the honey bees working or that feeling that precedes a faint or when you eat too much frosting and your fillings sing. The Cat birds were rustling and calling from within and there must have been at least six American Redstarts, males and females. They worked that area of heaven on earth for at least six hours. I left long before they did. I did get photographs of everybody, which was no easy feat trying to shoot in a thicket with high contrast of dark and light and hoppy flitty birds. The males called unrelentingly to the females that chatted back, jumping coyly ahead and out of sight whenever the males got close. I could have stayed there for many hours working for perfect shots. It was the kind of focus I so desperately needed to be able to apply to stop myself from sobbing uncontrollably, and a couple of times, I did anyway. The birds didn't care. They kept moving, darting, calling and enticing me to them. They lifted me from my despair up into the sky, up into the air. 
Honey bees love the wild black cherry blossoms. Those trees get that gnarly, black virus that mutates their branches and makes them hideous in the winter, as if they are festooned with gobs of tar. It would be tempting to hack them all down, but look who lives on the blossoms. 
American Redstarts are a type of wood-warbler. They are migratory and glean insects from the trees. This yellow one is the lady. The singer below is the male. They are about 5" long from head to tail.
For the couple of hours I worked for photographs of these guys, a male perched out of the canopy of leaves only this once.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Rockland Harbor Breakwater

One of my best friends is a 'Main'ah,' born and raised here like me. Because we grew up here, there are  a lot of tourist things that we have never done before. Walking the mile out the Rockland Breakwater is one of those things. Last Saturday, we took a leisurely stroll to the end. There was just the slightest breeze and in the seventies, it felt like June. There were not many other folks walking because the official start to "The Season," is not until Memorial Day. In the lighthouse seen at the end, is a museum. They were painting the floors and organizing the display cases of brick-a-bracka tourist trinkets for sale. The smell of paint drifted out the doors and opened windows, mixing with the seaweed and mud smell from shore. A group of volunteers was gathered around the flag pole receiving instruction in how to raise, lower and fold the American flag. A couple of guys were arguing lightheartedly with the instructor. "I was in the Army for thirty-seven years and we neva' done it like that!" one declared. The other said he had been an Eagle Scout and he hadn't done it that way, either. A family of Asians were fishing from the east side. The man got his line caught in seaweed and was chattering away ferociously while trying to free it. I couldn't understand a thing he said, but his frustration and irritation came across very clearly. A woman sat as far out as she could get on the rocks, alone just staring out to sea.
The breakwater at 4,300 feet is constructed of granite blocks. It took eighteen years to build it starting in 1881. Running north to south, on the west side it protects Rockland Harbor from the ferocious seas that would pound the harbor from the northeast. In the 1800's limestone was big business in the area. Rockland Harbor was one of the busiest ports on the east coast. The granite blocks show fascinating patterns of holes where they were divided and split off in the quarry and when fitted into the breakwater. Sea birds fish the breakwater for marine life and use the surface like a massive kitchen table for smashing and picking. Someday, I would like to walk the breakwater at sunset and maybe, if I'm ambitious, at sunrise.
Purple Sandpipers wheeling around the breakwater's east side.
Double -crested Cormorant still has his lid closed to protect his eye underwater. I saw a Great Cormorant off in the distance perched on rocks.
A Common loon in non breeding plummage takes a big stretch

This Starfish had been dropped onto the breakwater by a gull.  
The tide was outgoing and the wind was from the west. These conditions were less than ideal for birding, though I'm sure the birding on the breakwater can be fabulous. I did not see this man catch anything, so perhaps the same can be said for fishing.
"Do you think this would this look good on me as a hat?"
Sea Urchins were popular with the gulls.

For more information on the breakwater, click this link - Rockland Breakwater
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Friday, May 21, 2010

Owl In The Hole! Barred Owl Pair and Owlet

At just about this time last year, give or take a couple of days, I took these photographs of this pair of adult Barred Owls. One of these shots has the owl's butt sticking out of the nest. They either did not lay eggs or did not successfully hatch the eggs. Barred owls will often use the same nest for years if they find it suitable each season when they check it out. Yesterday, I was able to get this shot of the owlet in the same nest. I think there are two of them in there, but I'm not sure. Barred owls lay a clutch of 2-5 eggs. I haven't yet seen the mom and dad, but I know they are around because I can hear them. I'll keep checking. The property owners have been gracious in telling me to come looking anytime; they ask only that I don't wear my bathrobe.  In the photos from last year, it almost looks as if the adult pair were consoling one another.
These are tail feathers sticking out of the hole last year. It was the tail of an adult, probably the female.
This is 'junior' this year in the same nest.
"Honey, it's okay. We can try again next year. Don't be sad."

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Spring Flowers

I took all of these shots yesterday after clouds had moved in. I find that a slightly overcast day is best for shooting flowers. The blue tones resonate through and sublte colors are not washed out by the sun. These are all flowers in my gardens. Top left to right, clockwise are Johnny Jump Ups, Shooting Stars, a foliage-only show of thyme, Lady's Mantle, ajuga and Midnight Reiter geranium, buds of Oriental poppies, another Johnny Jump Up with Kenilworth Ivy and Corydalis lutea. The combos are random and seeded themselves that way. Sometimes, those are the combinations I like the most. I hope you find them as lovely as I do.
  For the photographers in the room, I shot these all with my Canon 50D with a Canon 100-400mm telephoto zoom lens, hand held. It does have image stabilization, but those of you into photography 'technology' will recognize that this breaks most of the rules for this kind of photo. This kind of work is usually done with a much shorter lens with a wider angle and on a tripod.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Scarlet Tanagers

Evergreen Cemetery in Portland is one of the premier birding spots in Maine. It's an old fashioned, 'garden style' cemetery that was established in the early 1800s. There are 65,000 people interred there. Through huge, old trees lovely paths and trails meander around several ponds on 239 acres. This is warbler migration season, so the birding is intense right now. Thousands of birds of all kinds can be heard in the dense canopies of deciduous and conifer trees. I am not good at vocalization identifications, but I'm learning. It's very difficult to see through the leaves to identify what one might be hearing, and even more difficult to take great photographs. The birds are very flitty and hoppy by nature and even more so with migration and mate choosing underway. The top photo is a Beech tree where I was looking for a Bay-breasted warbler when I saw these Scarlet tanagers. My heart about blew out of my chest when first I saw this blaze of red streak through the leaves. I almost didn't believe what I was seeing. The male landed several times then eventually sat still. It's a good thing I was able to get this photo because otherwise, I would have thought some of that old chemical stuff from the seventies was leaking out of my liver or from the fat cells where my brain used to be.
His mate obliged as well. She is nearly the same color as the new Beech leaves. I haven't seen a Scarlet tanager in seven years. I took photographs then, but they are terrible. The bird was here at Totman Cove on a feeder. It was evening and it was raining. In those photographs, the bird is an orange blob. Scarlet tanagers migrate to South America for wintering. They breed here in these kinds of woods. They are insect eaters and spend most of their time up in the trees just as I observed them at Evergreen where they glean bugs from the branches. Evergreen is lovely. If you ever get the chance to go there, you should take it. Take a lunch. It's beautiful and relaxing and there is loads to see. You'll get a natural high just sitting there listening - no chemical enhancements from your youth required.

If you want to know more about Scarlet tanagers, check out allaboutbirds. There is a great recording of their song, too.
Thanks to Wikipedia and David Allen Sibley, The Sibley Guide To Birds for information.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Oh, Baby, Baby! Barred Owl and Red Fox Babies

This is a baby Barred owl or owlet. The little owl appears to be one of two. The other one stayed in its nest cavity, but I could see it up through branches. Neither of them can fly yet, so I'm not sure how this one got to this branch which is roughly thirty feet from the nest. The nest cavity is in an oak where a large branch broke off years ago. It's a typical Barred owl nest. Last year, I took photographs of the nest cavity and what turned out to be two adult Barreds. They did not have a successful nesting. If the mother laid eggs, nothing hatched. The property owners say that they have been aware of nesting in the same site for about five years and that probably, there were owls there before they realized it. The property owners where busy in their yard when I arrived. The second I got out of my car, I could hear an owl making the buzzing noise they issue when they are annoyed. The owls seem to think they own the whole block! The property owners say that they haven't had any Red squirrel problems there in the years since they've had the owls in residence. In Maine, Barred owls lay eggs in April. The owlets fly about 4-5 weeks after that. According to Wikipedia, the Barred owl is thought responsible for the decline of the Spotted owl population. Barred owls are more aggressive then Spotted and compete for nesting sites. On the west coast, a study was undertaken where Barred owls were shot to allow the Spotted owls nesting opportunities.
There are reportedly five kits in this litter. I only saw two. They were not shy. I'll go back to check on the others. I photographed these baby foxes and the owlet today, all in Phippsburg.
This little guy is about to yawn.
This was one of the two fox kits that I saw. He could hardly be bothered with me from his nap.

     Thanks to Wikipedia for information about the Barred owls.

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mess Of A Nest - Bald Eagle & Yellow Warbler Nests

Yesterday, I went birding all day with a birding pal. We made a couple of stops in Portland. The first was Evergreen Cemetery and the second was Capisic Pond Park, both off from Stevens Avenue. I saw Yellow Warblers at both places, but at Capisic, I also saw this nest. I'm assuming it's the nest of a Yellow warbler as I saw the bird several times in the branches of the trees just above the nest, which was tucked into some of the wild honeysuckle. The honeysuckle was in bloom and the sweet fragrance wafted through the air. If I were a warbler, I'd make a nest in the honeysuckle, too. There was white and pink; this warbler had chosen the pink. Could that mean that it was expecting a girl? The nest was only about four feet off the ground though, which didn't look too safe to me.  I was struck by how soft the baseball sized nest looked and how well constructed it was.
    Before I had headed off to Portland, I stopped on my way out of The Burg at a spot where I know there to are two eagle's nests. One I thought had been abandoned two years ago, but I wasn't sure. The second was built last year, but it never looked like eggs had been laid. It does look as if this year, they may either have eggs or are about to do so. Both adults were there, though one was a few trees away. I'll be checking on them regularly now to see what if anything takes place. By comparison, the eagles are real slobs about their nests. Both nests are about four feet across and a big mess of sticks and branches, each fifty feet or so up near the tops of  White pines. The structures look solid enough, but very sloppy and unattractive. If bird nests were compared to furniture, the warbler's nest would be a fine, slender legged Chippendale chair. The eagle's nest would be more of a Lazy-Boy recliner thing with a holder in the arm for a beer can, practical but lacking elegance.

"Honey, bring me another, Bud, will ya?"
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Friday, May 14, 2010

Battle Serendipity - Red-tailed Hawk and Crows

Yesterday, I actually got to a job without being too distracted. However, while Weeding For Dollars, I was admittedly taking photographs and prepared to do so at the drop of a bird poop from the trees. Or, my hat, as it were. And let me tell you, Mister Man! It was a good thing I was or this whole event would have been lost to the history of mankind. This is a Red-tailed hawk being mightily harassed by a few crows. The one on the right that looks bigger might be a Raven. This battle went on for a few minutes as the hawk dodged and weaved and dove to try to shed the pesky varmints from its tail. As far as I know, RTs aren't nest robbers, so I'm not sure what this was about. Maybe crows just don't like any other dude on their corner for any reason. I was in Phippsburg when I took these shots. When I came home, I read my e mail as I usually do while waiting for my aching back to calm down. There's always lots of stuff from the Audubon List Serve bird reporters going at this time of year. Everyone's having palpitations about the warblers and everyone wants to be the first to report something rare. I must admit to some of the ego driven competitiveness myself. Plus, there is just the thrill of seeing the twitterers everywhere, rare or common. I didn't see anything rare yesterday. But I did catch this battle royal and lots of Baltimore Orioles and a lovely White-crowned sparrow. I'll share those in a separate post. Here is an unauthorized excerpt of one of the list serve e mails I read:
" Greetings, birding friends. Is it still called "birding" if there are no birds present? That was basically the deal on the Maine Audubon walk at Evergreen Cemetery this morning. Whew, it was dead. Deader than roadkill. We're talking slooooooooooow. And what few birds our group encountered, we couldn't see. They taunted us from the treetops or from deep in the scrub. The few birds we could hear, we couldn't quite identify. Their vocalizations were unfamiliar and possibly new to science. Until the wind picked up and we couldn't hear them anymore. By then, thankfully, it was time to say goodbye, sell my binoculars on eBay, and take up gardening."

I had to laugh as I saw what I did while gardening and captured it for everybody else. Tomorrow, I have a date with a fellow birder to go to Evergreen Cemetery. I bet I'll photograph something, anything, even if it's an interesting head stone. If I don't photograph something interesting, it will be because I'm not gardening.

This isn't an escort service. The Crow had dodged ahead of the hawk and doubled back on it.
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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

You May Call Me 'Cleopatra -Queen Of The Mud Flats!' - Glossy Ibis & Co.

Yesterday, while on my way to Weed For Dollars, I stopped at the marsh by Lobster Cove on Rt 216 in Phippsburg. It's a place I always check out for water fowl and that's where I got the shots of the weasle/mink/fisher CAT/dog/porpoise, whatever. It's a very busy little spot for wildlife, no matter what one calls it. Three years ago, I had seen two Glossy Ibises there hanging around with a couple of Snowy egrets. Even though I looked every time I went by, I had not seen them again since. Until TODAY! The muddy tidal inlet smelling of clams may not be the Nile, but I am definitely Cleopatra! I was treated by not only the Ibis, but it was with seven Snowies and this Great Blue Heron. They were on the east side of the marsh, a little too far away to get great photographs. I could get good shots, but not GREAT shots of them. Like Cleopatra wrapped up in a rug and sneaked into Julius Ceasar's bedroom, I sneaked down the embankment. I stopped behind a lone boulder. I stood there a while, then moved to the far side of the boulder and stopped again. I headed across the marsh with a stop-start wide zig zagging approach. Eventually, I was able to move all the way across the marsh until I was stopped by the channel. Like any queen, it's a good thing I dont actually have a boss. This whole affair took me an hour, so I would have been really late for work. But, I did get within 100 feet of the birds. They were fishing in a pool that was isolated on an outgoing tide. Little fish were trapped there which made the fishing easy for the waders. They were so engrossed in the 'fish in the barrel' that they didn't mind me at all. In these photos are Snowy egrets, a Great Blue Heron and a Glossy Ibis. Of the three, the Ibis is the least often seen here. Glossy Ibis are about 23" tall. You can see their relative size easily in these photos with the other waders. They winter along the Gulf Coast and Central and South America and breed here. They are found all along the east coast of the United States from Maine to Texas. They nest and roost in trees with other waders so it stands to reason that they would dine together, too. This was not the Sacred White Ibis of Cleopatra's Egypt, but it is my ibis and I am the Queen of The Mud Flats here!

"That's really gauche when you scratch in public like that! Gross!"
This shows the sizes of the three waders. For a birder, it could only have been better if there was a Great egret or maybe a Roseate spoonbill in there, too! To the ancient Egyptians, the ibis was the patron saint of writers. That's one more reason this ibis is my ibis.

"Okay, which one of you invited him? I KNOW I didn't!"
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