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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Michigan Mice


Can you see both of them?

There is only one here.

As I was staring aimlessly out the den window into my flower garden, I noticed a little disturbance in the lavender. I looked closer and discovered a wee mouse feasting on spilled thistle seed from the bird feeder. Soon he/she was joined by another tiny gray field mouse. "Ok", I said, "Enjoy yourselves because before fall you HAVE to go one way or another. I cannot go to Florida and risk mice getting into my house.

It became a morning/evening ritual to watch the little fellas, but part of me wanted the mice to be gone. Meanwhile I showed them to my 4 year old granddaughter. Big mistake! She named them...Tiny and Sam. Now what was I going to do?

Another day, after an all-day-rain, the two mice AND a dove were all trying to eat the spilled thistle seed. The mice, considerable smaller than the dove, nonetheless, were PUSHING the dove with their heads. I wish I had a digital video cam. It was more than funny!

Along comes my friend's two little dogs. The larger of the two is a terrier. I am taking care of the sweet little dogs while she is in the hospital. The very first thing the terrier did was dive into the garden to root out the mice. Last I saw of Tiny and Sam they were headed into my neighbor's yard. The dogs will be here for a while so the mice may just make home in another place...I hope.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007









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Here it is, mid-July, and the "Cube-Foot-Garden" is marching right along. The yellow peppers need to be picked soon and then something else can go in those 4 spots...some late fall root crop. The zucchini, squash, cucumbers, and tomatoes all have small veggies underway. I do hope some of the insects buzzing around the lavender help with the pollination. The seeds are up except for the green pepper plants and the carrots. I am not expecting much from the corn but it should be interesting for the granddaughters to watch anyway. Even ONE ear would thrill the girls.

No damage from the rabbit either, unless you count eating the marigolds I planted to keep him out of the veggies.

If I count the money spent on water this very hot, dry spell, then these are expensive vegetables, indeed.
Sunday, June 10, 2007

My Square-Foot Garden
















In Progress and finished. It has taken about a week since my son suggested planting vegetables in the space left by the lemon-mint. Now there's a plant that, though wonderful for tea, will take over your life! It took a lot of weed-killer but it finally didn't come up this spring. But the grass did. More weed killer and my son's hard work cultivating it. How could I say no to veggies?

Way back in the late 70s and the 80s I grew all sorts of things in Square-Foot gardens back at the old house. One year the children and I grew all miniature crops; cantaloupes the size of golf balls, single-serving watermelons, cherry tomatoes, little corn (cute shocks for Halloween that year), little cabbages and bib lettuce, cucumbers. Another year it was all cutting garden flowers, but, thanks to the PBS-TV show at the time, this was how I learned to make a vegetable garden.

So, since my books were long gone, loaned out and never returned, I checked the internet to find Mel Bartholomew had a new book out. Thanks to Amazon.com's special speedy delivery, we were buying supplies the next day. My son constructed the frames and grids, poured in the 12 bags of garden mix soil, and I planted the veggie plants. The seeds I will plant with my granddaughter later this week.

I put down 7-10 layers of newspapers my son got from the recycling center, and covered that over with several inches of mulch. I didn't skimp because I don't want to fight weeds again next year.

We have in the garden:
5 kinds of tomato plants
yellow and green long squash
cucumbers
cantaloupe
sweet peppers
hot peppers
and seeds for
lettuce
green peppers.

I want to get carrots and raddishes also. Maybe some corn.

We have another open area where I eventually want to plant more roses. There may be a third garden after all. That would be good for the root crops into the late fall.
Tuesday, June 5, 2007

This is my singing "friend"!

A couple of days ago the Baltimore Oriole stopped by again. Before I could grab the camera he was off again. I had just enough time to set the camera back on the tripod and get it ready and in a flash of orange and black he was in the birdbath, splashing away.

This isn't the best photo but at least he is in the yard, now. If he will just pose nicely on a feeding station I would be happier. I read that Orioles like oranges so I will try that.
Saturday, May 26, 2007

I Couldn't Leave Florida Behind

Most of those photos were taken in the back yard on the water in Florida. There are a few I photographed while on a birding morning on a Florida golf course. I could probably do another page of the more common birds, and some we saw but couldn't photograph.

All in One Place


There was a digital scrap-booking challenge at one of my online "homes" to use a certain ad as inspiration. The ad had a lot of circle photos. I wanted to join the challenge and realized the ad was perfect for putting some of my bird photos in one place.

There has been a bird hidden in the neighborhood trees with a distinctive, loud, musical call. I decided, once again, to try and identify the bird by sound alone. I started playing all of the calls from All About Birds. The door-wall to my garden from my computer room was open. I looked up from playing all these different bird calls to see my yard just filled with birds. Unfortunately, not anything unusual, and I haven't identified the bird call yet, but if I find it, I now have a plan to play the All About Birds bird calls and lure it out into the open.

I move my feeders around a bit trying to get more songbirds and fewer of those big black feisty birds. The suet-seed cake feeders are now hanging on the fence and the songbird feeders are on the shepherd hooks. I left one of the suet cake feeders empty when I moved them until I saw the Downy Woodpecker trying to get one last bit of food from it. I went out with a new cake and didn't seem to scare the Downy at all. He let me get quite close before he flew off into a tree. Once I was inside again he was right back to feast.
Thursday, May 17, 2007

Surprise!

Over these last 3 days of rain and gloom, I saw nothing at the feeders but big, argumentive black birds. Then all of a sudden, I looked out today and there was the most beautiful sight...a bright Baltimore Oriole.
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With its brilliant orange and black plumage, the Baltimore Oriole's arrival is eagerly awaited by birders each spring migration. Its preference for open areas with tall trees has made it a common inhabitant of parks and suburban areas.

Description

  • Medium-sized songbird.
  • Male brilliant orange with black head.
  • Size: 17-19 cm (7-7 in)
  • Wingspan: 23-30 cm (9-12 in)
  • Weight: 30-40 g (1.06-1.41 ounces)

Sex Differences

Male brightly colored with black hood, female duller and without black hood.

Sound

Song: a series of rich whistled notes interspersed with rattles. Call: a chatter.

Conservation Status

Populations showing slight decrease across range, but populations probably stable. This species should be monitored closely.

  • The Baltimore Oriole hybridizes extensively with the Bullock's Oriole where their ranges overlap in the Great Plains. The two species were considered the same for a while and called the Northern Oriole, but recently, they were separated again. Molecular studies of the oriole genus indicate that the two species are not very closely related.
  • The "orioles" of the Americas were named after similarly-appearing birds in the Old World. The American orioles are not closely related to the true orioles in the family Oriolidae. They are more closely related to blackbirds and meadowlarks. Both New and Old world orioles are brightly colored with red, yellow, and black; have long tails and long pointed bills; build hanging, woven nests; and prefer tall trees around open areas.
  • Young male Baltimore Orioles do not achieve adult plumage until the fall of their second year. But some first-year males with female-like plumage succeed in attracting a mate and nest successfully.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Dude, you are annoying!



We spent Mother's Day at my daughter's family lakehouse. Of course I took my camera for family pictures, but also because they have so many little songbirds in the surrounding woods. As soon as we had arrived, my son-in-law filled the feeders outside the big picture window in the dining room. Immediately a little Black-Capped Chickadee and a little White-breasted Nuthatch came to dine and stayed most of the day.
WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH

BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE

For SOME reason, the Nuthatch started flying into the window and catching on to the frame and pecking at the glass. After this had gone on and on, I went outside to see if I could solve the puzzle of why he was doing this. It seemed to me that he was looking at the reflection of the feeder in the window, but when the lights went on inside and the reflection was not a factor, he continued flying at the window. This wore a little thin as we tried to have dinner. Finally my son-in-law started knocking back at the bird and said, "Dude! You are annoying!" Of course the 4-year-old picked up on that phrase, repeating it until WE were annoyed at HER.

We never did solve the mystery. I wonder if that bird is STILL flying at the window.
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Black Capped Chickadee

One of the most familiar and beloved birds in northern North America, the Black-capped Chickadee is a frequent visitor to bird feeders. Its apparently cheerful activity throughout the harshest winters has won it the admiration of many people.

Description

Small, short-billed bird.

  • Black cap.
  • Black bib.
  • White cheeks.
  • Size: 12-15 cm (5-6 in)
  • Wingspan: 16-21 cm (6-8 in)
  • Weight: 9-14 g (0.32-0.49 ounces)

Sex Differences

Sexes look alike.

Sound

Song: two or three notes whistled, with first higher in pitch, "fee-bee-ee." Call: suggests name "chick-a-dee-dee."

Conservation Status

Black-capped Chickadees have benefited from human-provided food and nest boxes, as well as increased forest edges caused by deforestation. However, overzealous forest management can reduce or eliminate natural nest sites.

Cool Facts

  • The Black-Capped Chickadee hides seeds and other food items for later recovery. Each item is placed in a different spot and a bird can remember thousands of hiding places.
  • The chickadee's simple-sounding calls have been found to be extremely complex and language-like. They code information on identity and recognition of other flocks as well as predator alarms and contact calls.
  • Breeding pairs and nonbreeders join up into flocks outside of the breeding season. Nonbreeders may be members of several flocks, with a different position in the dominance hierarchy of each flock.
Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Duck, Duck, WHAT?

Male Mallard

Ducks are a way of life in this community right on Lake Erie. They beg for bread, stomp on your feet while you feed them, swim in puddles, and have free run of the streets. No one would think of being irritated when you have to wait for a pair to cross the road.

I have had a pair of ducks swimming in my un
-opened swimming pool every year for the last 2 or 3 years, but never saw them in my garden before today. Not only were this pair tromping through the plants, the female came right up to the door wall begging. I ran to find a couple of pieces of bread and started tossing pieces on the ground for her. The male, meantime, had been alongside the house and chased her away from the bread. He didn't seem to want it for himself...just didn't trust me, I guess.
Female Mallard
Male Mallard

Monday, May 7, 2007

American Goldfinch

I have been waiting to snap this little male finch for a year or so. I put out a thistle finch feeder last week, but only saw him once. I had the two "shepherd hook" feeded holders right together for ease of photography. The other birds seemed to be scaring off the finches so I separated the hooks by 6 feet or so. Immediately the finches started coming in in the morning and evening. I hear their beautiful song all the time, now.

A familiar and abundant small colorful bird, the American Goldfinch is frequently found in weedy fields and visiting feeders. It shows a particular fondness for thistles, eating the seeds and using the down to line its nest.

Description

  • Small bird.
  • Bill small, pointed, conical, and pink.
  • Body bright yellow to dull brown.
  • Wings dark with large white wingbars.
  • Tail short and notched.
  • Breeding male bright yellow with black cap and wings.
  • Size: 11-13 cm (4-5 in)
  • Wingspan: 19-22 cm (7-9 in)
  • Weight: 11-20 g (0.39-0.71 ounces)
  • Summer male is bright yellow with a black cap whereas female is drab olive. Sexes similar and drab in winter.
  • Song a long series of twittering and warbling notes. Common contact call a "tsee-tsi-tsi-tsit," often given in flight. May be described as "per-chic-o-ree" or "po-ta-to-chip.
  • The American Goldfinch changes from winter plumage to breeding plumage by a complete molt of its body feathers. It is the only member of its family to have this second molt in the spring; all the other species have just one molt each year in the fall.
  • The American Goldfinch is one of the latest nesting birds. It usually does not start until late June or early July, when most other songbirds are finishing with breeding. The late timing may be related to the availability of suitable nesting materials and seeds for feeding young.
  • The American Goldfinch is gregarious throughout the year. In winter it is found almost exclusively in flocks. In the breeding season it feeds in small groups. Whether it maintains breeding territories is debatable.
  • The American Goldfinch is mostly monogamous, but a number of females switch mates after producing a first brood. The first male takes care of the fledglings while the female goes off to start another brood with a different male.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Back Home in the North


This Cardinal looks none too thrilled with the Mourning Dove on the feeder.

Downy Woodpecker-Male
Downy Woodpecker-Female
Blue Jay

I was so sure my birds from last fall had abandoned me...after all I had abandoned THEM when I went to Florida for the winter. I had 2 suet-seed cakes in the house from Fall so I replaced the empty ones the day I returned and was rewarded with a LOT of activity. I was most concerned about the pair of Woodpeckers from Fall, but there they were, waiting for me along with Cardinals, Blue-Jays, Sparrows, Juncos, Doves, and Starlings. I bought a thistle-feeder and the next day a bright yellow and black wild canary (Gold Finch) had found the feeder.

Today I HAD to go to the store and buy a supply of seed-cakes, since it takes only 2-3 days for the birds to go through 2 cakes, especially if the Starlings stop by. I also bought another hook so there is place for both the thistle
and the suet cake feeders.
Sparrow

Friday, April 27, 2007

A sad note:

One of the first Fridays we were in Florida this January, we attended a local "Concert in the Park". We didn't expect much. We had never heard of the singer who was being honored with a "tribute". Actually, he sang every song in the 2 1/2 hour performance. Some made us smile or laugh. Some made us smile at each other. The instrumentals were beautiful poems to local flavor. The songs were mostly about beer and fishing. All reminded us of his friend, Jimmy Buffet and the Key West version of Country Folk Music.

Once we were home I Googled his name and found his web page, Pete Harris

I was dismayed to learn Pete was fighting brain cancer and the "Tribute" we had just attended was part of a series of fund raisers for him and his family. Imagine...in the middle of his fight, he had found the strength to sing for the whole concert! I bought his available records that night and we played them all through our 4-month stay in Florida. We played them for our company all winter. My daughter and her family took my CDs and I had to buy new ones.

Today, our Florida neighbor called to tell us Pete had passed away. His web site has been updated to tell his fans that he had passed away peacefully with his family by his side. Tonight, Friday, there will be a memorial service, so to speak, at the local favorite Sand Bar where he had preformed. Patrons are actually encouraged to wear Flip-Flops. I wish we had waited one more week to return North.
Friday, April 20, 2007

A Wow Moment


Down to the last few days before heading North and we had one of those moments that makes you stop breathing. All of the doors are open so the bird sounds are quite clear. Suddenly I heard a different one. I looked out the front door and there, on the nearest palm tree was a Pileated Woodpecker. While not endangered, they ARE unusual. We saw one 5 years ago and not since. I snapped away and got these keepers.From "About Birds" - link on the side of the blog

Nearly as large as a crow, the Pileated Woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in most of North America. Its loud ringing calls and huge, rectangular excavations in dead trees announce its presence in forests across the continent.

  • Large woodpecker.
  • Red crest on head.
  • Black body.
  • Size: 40-49 cm (16-19 in)
  • Wingspan: 66-75 cm (26-30 in)
  • Weight: 250-350 g (8.83-12.36 ounces)
  • Sexes similar, male has red crown and forehead and red in black mustache stripe. Female has gray to yellow-brown forehead and no red in mustache stripe.
  • Call a loud, ringing "kuk-kuk-kuk." Drumming loud and resonant.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Today's Sightings

Sitting on the patio eating lunch, I lamented that we just didn't see much this late in the season. I was wondering if the birds had gone North with the Snowbird Tourists. Then within a few minutes I got pictures of:Northern Mockingbird
The "American nightingale," the Northern Mockingbird is known for its long, complex songs that include imitations of many other birds. It is a common bird of hedgerows and suburbs, and has been slowly expanding its range northward
  • Medium-sized songbird.
  • Long tail.
  • Pale gray above, whitish below.
  • Bill thin.
  • Two white wingbars.
  • Large white patches show in wings in flight.
  • White outer tail feathers.
  • Size: 21-26 cm (8-10 in)
  • Wingspan: 31-35 cm (12-14 in)
  • Weight: 45-58 g (1.59-2.05 ounces)
  • Sexes look alike.
  • Song is a series of varied phrases, with each phrase repeated many times in a row. Includes much mimicry of other bird songs and calls. Call a harsh dry "chew."
Blue Jay

A familiar sight at bird feeders, the boldly patterned Blue Jay is unmistakable. It is abundant in the East and is extending into the West, using food and shelter provided by humans.

  • Large songbird.
  • Crest on head.
  • Upperparts various shades of blue.
  • Size: 25-30 cm (10-12 in)
  • Wingspan: 34-43 cm (13-17 in)
  • Weight: 70-100 g (2.47-3.53 ounces)
  • Sexes alike.
  • Very vocal; make a large variety of calls. Most frequent call is a harsh "jeer." Also clear whistled notes and gurgling sounds.
Osprey
I have been watching this nest since the first stick was placed in February (see earlier entry). So far, although the parents are still sitting, no sign nor sound of babies. The other Osprey nestlings on the island are very vocal right now. I am afraid we will have to return North without a sign of babies.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Stalking the Wild Peacock

About an hour North of us, there is a small neighborhood that is plagued or blessed (as your point of view) with peacocks. Since we had to be in the area, I hauled my camera along and when we had time, we drove over to that neighborhood.

What a sight! There was about a 2-block area with a good 40 peacocks and peahens. You could hear them way before you could see them. Although the peacocks were screaming, none were moved to display their magnificent tails.
Thursday, April 12, 2007

Snapping the Great Blue Heron


This morning, as I searched the shoreline across the bay for the missing resident alligator, I was suddenly looking right at a well-camouflaged Great Blue Heron. "Oh, he's been there an hour" said my son-in-law who had been fishing nearby.

So I grabbed my camera, telephoto lens, and tripod. I snapped quite a few pictures and put this sequence together as he stalked and caught a small fish.


The largest and most widespread heron in North America, the Great Blue Heron can be found along the ocean shore or the edge of a small inland pond. An all white form is found from southern Florida into the Caribbean, and used to be considered a separate species, the "Great White Heron."

Description

  • Large, gray bird.

  • Long legs

  • Long, "S"-shaped neck.
  • Long, thick bill.
  • White crown stripe.
  • Black plume extending from behind eye to off the back of the neck.
  • Shaggy feathers on neck and back.
  • Bluish gray back, wings, and belly.
  • Reddish or gray neck.
  • White morph all white with pale legs, yellow bill.
  • Size: 97-137 cm (38-54 in)
  • Wingspan: 167-201 cm (66-79 in)
  • Weight: 2100-2500 g (74.13-88.25 ounces)
  • Sexes look alike.
  • Call a deep, hoarse croak.
Thursday, April 5, 2007

By Sound Rather Than by Sight



I was in college when the Exotic Sounds of Martin Denny instrumental music was popular: Sounds of Paradise, chirping birds punctuated with an occasional squawk of a Macaw all set to lovely music. Exotica, Quiet Village, Jungle Drums. So restful...right?

Many evenings right at sundown we sit by the lake and watch for whatever we might see...birds reptiles, rolling otter, skydivers. Lately we have done as much listening as watching.

It started with the first squawks out of the young Sand Hill Cranes about 1/4 mile away. Now, 3-4 months old, their voices are piercing; ear-splitting. This particular set of parents had 2 offspring this year, rather than the more common 1 baby. Attempts by a third Sand Hill Crane youngster to join them have been rebuffed. For the last couple of days one sibling has sat at the far end of the one-mile island preserve in the middle of our long lake and the other has sat on the shore of the bay on which we live at the other end. Figure that for a full mile and they are hollering back and forth most of the day. OK ...I can live with that, though not happily, but today they started their loud communication at 8 minutes to 7 in the morning. And the closest Sand Hill was on the utility wires by our bedroom window. I was so annoyed I didn't even take a photo of it. That bird balanced, just barely with those long legs, and yelled until the Macaw a neighbor owns screamed the bird away...about an hour later.

I thought the annoying crows were bad. I even found a Mockingbird less than charming after an hour of his songs. But these cranes are something else! I wish I could record the early morning din and share it with you.

Did I say "early morning"? Like teenagers, the birds are often hollering late at night...midnight to 2 in the morning. Usually not all that close, though. Then there is some other bird. It might be a small owl. "Hoot, Hoot" added to the crane din is enough when you need sleep to really strain the patience.
Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Winding Down

It must be about time to return to Michigan. The juvenile Sandhill Cranes are starting to annoy the dickens out of me. Three of them squawked all night last night, off and on. Now today they have been at it since dawn. Don't they ever sleep? I may prefer the teenage humans around the lake who play loud rap music and bounce a basketball. At least THEY don't do it for more than a couple of hours and very rarely.

We visited friends yesterday about 2 hours South of us. I was amazed by the differences in wildlife. Their Anoles are so much larger than ours. One seemed about the size of a small chipmunk. I love our little guys; Lizzies, my granddaughter calls them.

We also saw big Iguanas just sitting alongside the road, and in culverts. The ones we saw were dark, not the bright green of the one that took up residence in the wreckage of our shed in 2004 after the hurricanes. The Animal Shelter assured me that an iguana that big and that color would not be living this far North in the wild, but must have been someone's pet that escaped in the storm. The fact that he ran to me for protection when the Shelter man tried to catch him made us think he may have belonged to a woman, and probably lived in her screen room, many of which wound up at the bottom of our lake. That night the temps went into the 40s and the shelter said the Iguana would have been stressed, and maybe even died from the cold. I didn't feel so bad about calling them. They assured me he would find good home if they couldn't reunite him with the original owner. (I will post a photo of him here when I get back North where the old photos are.)

The parrots South of us were another surprise. Several times we saw small flocks of 10 or so flying from tree to tree. Once in the tree, however, they camouflaged so well I couldn't find one to take a photo of it. They strike me as exotic as much as the Peacocks running wild an hour North of us. Looks like I still have a lot more pictures to try and get next year.

All along the turnpike, as we headed home, there were Armadillos at their evening feeding. There was no way I could snap pictures of them from the moving car and the traffic was too heavy to pull over. Some day. Those strange animals have fascinated me since my grandmother used to have an Armadillo "shell" for a bizarre fruit basket in the middle of her dining room table back North.



Monday, April 2, 2007

My First Birdwatching Expedition

A nearby golf club allows local birders to drive golf carts around their courses on the first Monday of each month. Some friends from back home invited us along this morning and I couldn't wait to snap away with my 300mm lens. Of course, someone there had a much bigger lens, but I am still happy with some of the shots.

This Tern just sat on the railing of a bridge and posed so nicely for us. Can't get MUCH better but...

This Anhinga sat in the top of a nearby tree and preened this way and that. I was hoping for him to open his wings as they do to dry them after diving, but he didn't, and we had to move on.

The leaders identified this as a Green Heron. I don't know that I have identified one of those before. I am still in the "Oh look, a bird!" stage of birding. I take pictures and then try to identify it.
The other photos were all taken from a distance and aren't as clear as I would like. This American Alligator was rather close, however.
I really wanted to include this photo of a Great Blue Heron.

I have seen most of these birds on our own lake, but it is exciting to see them and hear a real expert identify them. The final tally was 41 species identified. I know I missed some of them, but it was still lots of fun!
Saturday, March 24, 2007

Mystery Solved



This evening I wandered out to the lake to watch and photograph the two baby Sandhill Cranes who were much closer than yesterday.

Then while I watched one of the parents flew in, it seemed, to check on the babies. A neighbor out working on his house was sure the parent would soon be chasing me. He should have grabbed HIS camera. It would have been quite a photo. However, the adult Sandhill Crane just watched me and, when I was getting too close, she few off.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Even the WEEDS Have Pretty Flowers.



Thanks to a lawn man who doesn't cut too close or too often, the "lawn" seems to be blooming in this drought. More photos coming as the "lawn" continues to put out pretty blooms. Well, at least they aren't dandelions!
Friday, March 16, 2007

Mistaken Identity

When I took this photo of these big, immature birds a month ago, I was sure they were young storks.

Then yesterday, we heard and watched a pair of young Sandhill Cranes. They were quite a distance away wandering around a neighbor's yard, too far away for me to photograph. I was sure that was what I had snapped earlier in the month.

So, today, I checked into All About Birds (link to the right) and there was a photograph of immature Sandhill Cranes. Not the same, especially the bill. SO I am back to identifying these two as immature Wood Storks. If I am wrong I would appreciate any help you have.

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Laura Lou
Michigan/Florida, United States
I am a retired Middle School Science teacher from Michigan spending 4 months each winter in Florida and learning about a whole new world.
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