Welcome to Birdspix.com!

Welcome to the ongoing quest to photograph 700 or more ABA countable North American bird species. Of the 732 total species of birds possible to see in North America currently published to this site, the number of ABA “countable” species presently stands at:

                                                              701

NEWS & RECENT OUTINGS

Upcoming trips

April 7 – 17, 2015:  Colorado

Four for four in Texas

February 2-6:  During three prior trips to the Texas lower Rio Grande Valley, one species that managed to elude me all three times despite hours of searching, is the Aplomado Falcon. Accordingly I resolved to one day make another trip to the valley, but at such time that the prospect of an especially tempting rarity or two would make the trip extra worthwhile. So when a Gray-crowned Yellowthroat showed up at Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco on January Estero Llano Grande SP24, to complement the first-time-in-the US Striped Sparrow that was being seen in Williamson County since January 11, it was finally time to head back to Texas. To add to the allure, these three species could bring the ABA photographed species total for birdspix.com up to 700, not even including the planned stop at Aransas Bay for Whooping Cranes.

I arrived in Harlingen at 10:30 AM on February 2 and headed straight from the airport to Estero Llano Grande in Weslaco, but the Yellowthroat, which had been seen two or three times earlier in the morning, was not to be spotted again that day, so I planned to return early the following morning, hopeful despite the weather report for temperatures in the 40’s with a strong likelihood of rain.

Accordingly, I was at the appropriate spot on the Spoonbill Trail by 7:45 AM, only to be told by the one other observer there that I had just missed the bird by five minutes. By and by a small group gathered, and the Yellowthroat actually was briefly seen twice, but both times off the trail at a spot where I somehow managed not to be, and by noon I had to leave in order to allow adequate afternoon time for the elusive Aplomado Falcon.

Aplomado FalconThe falcon search began along route 100 which runs east-west past the northern end of the Old Port Isabel Road north of Brownsville, since Old Port Isabel Road itself, also a place where Aplomado Falcons are known, is too muddy to traverse at this time of year. With no luck there, it was on to Lake Buena Vista Boulevard, which runs past the Cameron County Airport and becomes the access road to Laguna Atascosa NWR. With a bit ofAplomado Falcon patience, this general area, with the fence posts on either side of the road, starting just north of the airport, is arguably the best place in Texas to find Aplomados. The falcons hunt the fields here and repeatedly return to the roadside fence posts to eat their catch, usually a small bird. I spotted a juvenile Aplomado on a fence post almost right away, but I had seen it too late and the car spooked the bird, which flew off to perch on a low tree branch some hundred yards away. I continued on about a mile and made a u-turn, hoping the falcon might return to its roadside fence post, but it remained on its same distant perch.Aplomado Falcons Then, just a hundred yards up on the opposite side of the road, a pair of adult Aplomados flew in, one with a fresh kill. As I inched the car forward with the window rolled down, the birds paid me no mind at all, and I was able to spend an uninterrupted half hour observing them. The bird with the kill (which looked to be a swallow) proceeded to devour its meal while refusing to share even a morsel of it with its mate. They were still there when the forecasted rain finally began in earnest and I left, feeling elated, just before the heavens opened up.

Gray-crowned YellowthroatThe third day (second morning) the rain had moved out, and I had the entire day, if necessary, back at Estero Llano Grande since there was now no need to return to falcon country. This time the Gray-crowned Yellowthroat called cooperatively and popped up out of the deep grass at 8:45 AM and remained more or less in view continuously for someGreen Kingfisher twenty-five minutes allowing for excellent viewing and photography. Ample free time then remained to find a few other local specialties here including a beautiful male Green Kingfisher at Alligator Pond.

Next was an afternoon drive up US route 77 and then through Corpus Christi to Rockport on Aransas Bay, the winter home of nearly all of the world’s limited population of Whooping Cranes. It was Whooping Crane family in Aransas Bayfoggy in the morning and the 7:30 AM three-hour Whooping Crane outing on Captain Tommy Moore’s “Skimmer” had to be canceled, but we went out at 1 PM instead. The fog had lifted and it was unseasonably cold, Tommy Moore and John on Skimmer but boating conditions on Aransas Bay were otherwise fine. Captain Tommy, a knowledgeable birder in his own right, has a jovial upbeat manner, and takes special pride in endeavoring to provide as good views as possible of Whooping Cranes for his visitors, many of whom have traveled to Rockport especially for that purpose. Tommy also suggested an afterWhooping Crane - pair at Big Tree-boating stop at the nearby Big Tree area outside Goose Island SP where one can usually find additional Whooping Cranes in the cow fields there, and indeed such turned out to be the case. If you visit Rockport, be sure to try Charlotte Plummer’s Seafare Restaurant and order the house specialty baked fish – one of the most delicious meals I’ve had in many years of birding travels.

Striped SparrowThe last morning of the trip, following an overnight in Rockdale in Williamson County, began at sunrise along the San Gabriel River at a junction of two country roads where a lone Striped Sparrow, a first ever US sighting, was being reported keeping company with a mixed flock of other sparrows. The flock turned out to include Harris’s, Lincoln’s, Savannah, Song, White-crowned, White-Harris's Sparrowthroated, and Swamp, as well as numerous Northern Cardinals, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Dark-eyed Juncos, but to my utter amazement the very first bird I spotted on arrival to the site at 7:30 AM was the Striped Sparrow itself, perched all alone conspicuously in a small tree along the roadside fence. It stayed in view for just a few minutes before it disappeared and, while I remained for another three hours hoping for a closer view, I never saw it again.

This Texas trip turned out to be the culmination of a ten year quest to photograph 700 ABA species in North America. Aplomado Falcon (recently made “countable”) was no. 698, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat 699, and Whooping Crane no. 700. Striped Sparrow becomes no. 701.


Four for four in Texas

February 2-6:  During three prior trips to the Texas lower Rio Grande Valley, one species that managed to elude me all three times despite hours of searching, is the Aplomado Falcon. Accordingly I resolved to one day make another trip to the valley, but at such time that the prospect of an especially tempting rarity or two would make the trip extra worthwhile. So when a Gray-crowned Yellowthroat showed up at Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco on January Estero Llano Grande SP24, to complement the first-time-in-the US Striped Sparrow that was being seen in Williamson County since January 11, it was finally time to head back to Texas. To add to the allure, these three species could bring the ABA photographed species total for birdspix.com up to 700, not even including the planned stop at Aransas Bay for Whooping Cranes.

I arrived in Harlingen at 10:30 AM on February 2 and headed straight from the airport to Estero Llano Grande in Weslaco, but the Yellowthroat, which had been seen two or three times earlier in the morning, was not to be spotted again that day, so I planned to return early the following morning, hopeful despite the weather report for temperatures in the 40’s with a strong likelihood of rain.

Accordingly, I was at the appropriate spot on the Spoonbill Trail by 7:45 AM, only to be told by the one other observer there that I had just missed the bird by five minutes. By and by a small group gathered, and the Yellowthroat actually was briefly seen twice, but both times off the trail at a spot where I somehow managed not to be, and by noon I had to leave in order to allow adequate afternoon time for the elusive Aplomado Falcon.

Aplomado FalconThe falcon search began along route 100 which runs east-west past the northern end of the Old Port Isabel Road north of Brownsville, since Old Port Isabel Road itself, also a place where Aplomado Falcons are known, is too muddy to traverse at this time of year. With no luck there, it was on to Lake Buena Vista Boulevard, which runs past the Cameron County Airport and becomes the access road to Laguna Atascosa NWR. With a bit ofAplomado Falcon patience, this general area, with the fence posts on either side of the road, starting just north of the airport, is arguably the best place in Texas to find Aplomados. The falcons hunt the fields here and repeatedly return to the roadside fence posts to eat their catch, usually a small bird. I spotted a juvenile Aplomado on a fence post almost right away, but I had seen it too late and the car spooked the bird, which flew off to perch on a low tree branch some hundred yards away. I continued on about a mile and made a u-turn, hoping the falcon might return to its roadside fence post, but it remained on its same distant perch.Aplomado Falcons Then, just a hundred yards up on the opposite side of the road, a pair of adult Aplomados flew in, one with a fresh kill. As I inched the car forward with the window rolled down, the birds paid me no mind at all, and I was able to spend an uninterrupted half hour observing them. The bird with the kill (which looked to be a swallow) proceeded to devour its meal while refusing to share even a morsel of it with its mate. They were still there when the forecasted rain finally began in earnest and I left, feeling elated, just before the heavens opened up.

Gray-crowned YellowthroatThe third day (second morning) the rain had moved out, and I had the entire day, if necessary, back at Estero Llano Grande since there was now no need to return to falcon country. This time the Gray-crowned Yellowthroat called cooperatively and popped up out of the deep grass at 8:45 AM and remained more or less in view continuously for someGreen Kingfisher twenty-five minutes allowing for excellent viewing and photography. Ample free time then remained to find a few other local specialties here including a beautiful male Green Kingfisher at Alligator Pond.

Next was an afternoon drive up US route 77 and then through Corpus Christi to Rockport on Aransas Bay, the winter home of nearly all of the world’s limited population of Whooping Cranes. It was Whooping Crane family in Aransas Bayfoggy in the morning and the 7:30 AM three-hour Whooping Crane outing on Captain Tommy Moore’s “Skimmer” had to be canceled, but we went out at 1 PM instead. The fog had lifted and it was unseasonably cold, Tommy Moore and John on Skimmer but boating conditions on Aransas Bay were otherwise fine. Captain Tommy, a knowledgeable birder in his own right, has a jovial upbeat manner, and takes special pride in endeavoring to provide as good views as possible of Whooping Cranes for his visitors, many of whom have traveled to Rockport especially for that purpose. Tommy also suggested an afterWhooping Crane - pair at Big Tree-boating stop at the nearby Big Tree area outside Goose Island SP where one can usually find additional Whooping Cranes in the cow fields there, and indeed such turned out to be the case. If you visit Rockport, be sure to try Charlotte Plummer’s Seafare Restaurant and order the house specialty baked fish – one of the most delicious meals I’ve had in many years of birding travels.

Striped SparrowThe last morning of the trip, following an overnight in Rockdale in Williamson County, began at sunrise along the San Gabriel River at a junction of two country roads where a lone Striped Sparrow, a first ever US sighting, was being reported keeping company with a mixed flock of other sparrows. The flock turned out to include Harris’s, Lincoln’s, Savannah, Song, White-crowned, White-Harris's Sparrowthroated, and Swamp, as well as numerous Northern Cardinals, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Dark-eyed Juncos, but to my utter amazement the very first bird I spotted on arrival to the site at 7:30 AM was the Striped Sparrow itself, perched all alone conspicuously in a small tree along the roadside fence. It stayed in view for just a few minutes before it disappeared and, while I remained for another three hours hoping for a closer view, I never saw it again.

This Texas trip turned out to be the culmination of a ten year quest to photograph 700 ABA species in North America. Aplomado Falcon (recently made “countable”) was no. 698, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat 699, and Whooping Crane no. 700. Striped Sparrow becomes no. 701.

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Ivory Gull in Illinois

January 11, 2015:  In January, 2009, shortly after our annual “snowbird” migration from Connecticut back to Florida, an Ivory Gull showed up in Plymouth, Massachusetts. I was still fairly new to birding then and didn’t fully realize what a rarity the Ivory Gull was, or I might have at least considered a flight up and back to New England to see it, but it wasn’t until a few more years had passed that I resolved to do everything within reason to try to see an Ivory Gull if and when such an opportunity ever presented itself again.

On January 2, 2015 an adult Ivory Gull was first reported along the Mississippi River in Quincy, Illinois. By the sheerest coincidence the location happens to be less than an hour from the Missouri home of my good friend and birding colleague Bob Mustell, who viewed the bird on January 4 and encouraged me to come visit. Last minute airfares being as ridiculous as they are, I thought this would be out of the question until a web search turned up a late Thursday evening non-stop flight on Frontier Airlines from Fort Lauderdale to Saint Louis for an almost unbelievable $49, and so the game was afoot!

After my overnight stay near the airport, Bob picked me up promptly at 8 AM, and after a brief en route stop at his home, we arrived at Quinsippi Island in Quincy, Illinois just Ivory Gullbefore 11. The problem inherent with contemplating a long trip for just one lone bird is of course that the bird may simply have departed the night before, so this wasIvory Gull going to be a case of either joyful vindication or ignominious defeat, but on this very cold but perfect sunny day with a brilliant, cloudless azure sky, the bird gods smiled upon us. At the marina we found about ten parked cars and folksIvory Gull with cameras and telescopes – just the very sight we were hoping would greet us – and there was the unmistakable pure white gull perched conspicuously at the apex of the aluminum roof of one of the marina sheds. Except for a short time-out for lunch at the Burger King in nearby Quincy, we were able to spend some three-plus unhurried hours photographing the Ivory Gull and studying its habits.

Bald Eagle  We spent the rest of the afternoon at various spots along the Mississippi River admiring the views and watching the absolutely astounding numbers of Bald Eagles. Much of the river was frozen,Bald Eagle - second year but rushing water at the various locks and dams provided open holes for the eagles to easily find fish. I have never seen anywhere close to this many Bald Eagles in one place. We also noted several large flotillas of ducks, primarily Common Mergansers.

The following morning we looked for Eurasian Tree Sparrows in some wild brushy areas, but they tend to congregate mainly at residential feeders at this time of year, and we  found none in the wild areas. We did have some ten species, the most notable being a group of three Northern Bobwhite that scampered across a dirt road just in front of the car.

It helps to have luck on your side. We saw the Ivory Gull so easily on Friday, but, as I learned on social media only after returning home to Florida, all the people who went to see it on Saturday, many from who knows how far away, were in for a major disappointment. The gull was gone.

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Annual Xmas Week Bird Count 2015

January 3, 2015:  Today we conducted our annual bird count here in the Boynton Beach – Hyploluxo – Wellington section of Palm Beach County. We tallied some 75 species, but once again this year the dwindling number of passerines was undeniable. For example, whereas just a few years ago we had a number of productive sparrow fields in our assigned canvassing area, today our complete sparrow count in the entire territory was a grand total of three individual birds. One sparrow field is now part of Bethesda Hospital West, a second has been bulldozed for yet another new gated community, and a third is now a new polo field. The birds are gone, gone, gone, and it’s more than sad because these disappearing sparrows are the canary in a much larger coal mine, and no one seems to take note.

Great Blue Heron with turtleThere were no particular rarities, although an American Wigeon and several small groups of Lesser Scaup were uncommon for the area. The most unusual observation actually turned out to be a Great Blue Heron trying unsuccessfully to swallow a large turtle.

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STA-5 and Belle Glade Barn Owls

December 27: This morning it was time for another visit to Storm Water Treatment area 5 (STA-5) in Hendry County, FL, this time to help my young friend Ari Dinerman find some new Florida life birds. The area is generally not open to the public, but one can makeFulvous Whistling Ducks arrangements to visit on alternate Saturday mornings. Many species of water fowl and shorebirds can be found Great Blue Heron - white morphhere, and it is the most reliable spot in the state for seeing Snail Kites. Notable of the 55 species seen this morning were five Snail Kites, four Fulvous Whistling Ducks, eleven Common Ground-Doves, five Roseate Spoonbills, and a Great Blue Heron white morphScissor-tailed Flycatcher (Great White Heron). Just outside the entrance road (Deer Fence Road) we counted five Scissor-tailed Flycatchers along route 835.

On the way back to Boynton Beach we made a stop south of Belle Glade to visit with Rick Raid who was kind enoughBarn Owl to spend two hours helping us find some Barn Owl nesting and roosting spots. Prior to today, the only Barn Owl I had managed to photograph in the wild was sleeping in a cave on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos.

This northwestern part of Palm Beach County is an important sugar cane growing area where small rodents abound making for ideal Barn Owl habitat. Barn Owls are nocturnalBarn Owl - adult with chick hunters and like to spend their days in a dark secluded corner among the roof rafters of an old building.Dissected Barn Owl pellet In addition Rick and his group have set out over a hundred nesting boxes in the sugar cane fields, virtually all of which have attracted families of Barn Owls. Unlike most other species, the eggs are laid three days apart so that hatchlings in the nest are typically in different stages of maturation. We found many regurgitated “pellets” which, when dissected, reveal the fur and disjointed skeletons of the voles and mice that comprise the major portion of the Barn Owls’ diet.

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Florida Yellow-headed Blackbird

December 11:  First visit back to Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach for the 2014-2015 season. This venue has gotten more and more popular (and crowded!) with each successive year (sometimes hard to get a parking spot), but at least here most of the visitors have cameras or grandchildren, or both, and have come to admire Mother Nature. This is in sharp contrast to Green Cay Wetlands where the power walkers and loud cell phone talkers (sometimes the same individuals) frequently outnumber the nature seekers, and they don’t slow down or keep quiet even when stomping on the boardwalk past folks with binoculars or cameras trying, for example, to get a glimpse or a photo of a shy Least Bittern or Virginia Rail that has just finally ventured barely into view. The self-absorbed rudeness can sometimes be truly eye-opening. But I digress…

Yellow-headed Blackbird - immature maleToday the main attraction was an immature male Yellow-headed Blackbird, common out west but a Egyptian Gooserarity for Florida. There was a Roseate Spoonbill – a species that can now be found here more often than not, an Egyptian Goose – a species increasingly spreading over Florida (including a pair in the pond across the street from the house we are renting this season), and a Purple Swamphen – another rapidly expanding species in the state.

One used to have to go to PembrokePurple Swamphen Pines to find a Purple Swamphen, but they are now in many places. I saw them for the first time at Green Cay last season, and now this was the first time for Wakodahatchee. Some visitors observing the Purple Swamphen while poring over their guidebook were exclaiming how beautiful this “Purple Gallinule” was.

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The Rarest State Bird

December 9:  For some time now, the special “Map of State Birds” page on this site has featured all but one of the fifty state birds. The forty-eighth, added in Nome in June, 2012 was Alaska’s Willow Ptarmigan, and the forty-ninth – Pennsylvania’s Ruffed Grouse, was added in Lake Placid, NY this year, but the one that until now has remained conspicuously absent is the state bird of our very first state – Delaware. For whatever reason, Delaware selected for its avian talisman a bird that is not found in the wild at all, nor for that matter is it easily found anywhere anymore. It is the mascot of the University of Delaware – the Delaware Blue Hen chicken, but very few people have ever seen a real one.

During the Revolutionary War soldiers of the patriotic army had little to do when encamped between marches or battles, and took to cock fighting for entertainment to relieve the boredom. The breed of chicken known as the Delaware Blue became popular for this “sport” and developed a reputation, not necessarily deserved, for being a tough fighter. Once the war ended, the Delaware Blue was no longer particularly sought after and eventually virtually disappeared as a pure breed. Only a few specimens can now be found and, although close, even they are not 100% original Delaware Blue.

I finally decided to make a concerted effort to at last complete the pictorial set of all fifty state birds. This required a bit of research to find the purest Delaware Blue out there, and eventually I was referred to Mike Wasylkowski, a Delaware poultry judge and long-time breeder of chickens including a few Delaware Blues. So on December 1, during this year’s “snow birding” trip back to Florida from Connecticut, Nancy and I took advantage of Mike’s generous invitation and made a detour through the little town of Smyrna, Delaware, just north of the state capital of Dover.

Delaware Blue Hen - roosterDelaware Blue HenAs with most birds, it is the male that is the showy specimen, but how can a Delaware Blue Hen be represented by a photo of a rooster? After all, it’s not called a Delaware Blue Rooster. So we have here both the female and the male, with the admittedly less showy female, by virtue of its name, getting the photo representation on the state birds map.

Rhode Island Red roosterMike also had a beautiful Rhode Island Red rooster which now replaces the previous less gaudy specimen representing Rhode Island.

 

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19 Responses to Welcome to Birdspix.com!

  1. Barbara Johnson says:

    Nice going John; I bookmarked the site so I’ll be checking your
    progress from time to time.

    Best,
    Barb

  2. penny solum says:

    Congratulations John on this excellent new presentation of your
    fine photography and travel details! I’ll be a regular visitor to your site,
    with pleasure!!!
    warmly,
    Penny

  3. John Gerke says:

    Nice job with the web site!

    I added our 141st yard bird the other night when I heard Trumpeter Swans flying over headed north.

    Enjoy your south Texas trip!

    John and Anne

  4. john gentile says:

    Hi John;
    Beautiful site. You really found your call.
    Hope You’re all well.
    John

  5. Penny Spiwack says:

    Thanks for the on-going great education!

  6. Ms_Selena says:

    Oh my gosh! I love this website. This is so cool. I’m thrilled because I love birds, and this page/website is filled with so many birds that I have never seen before or heard about before. It’s going to be an amazing new experience for me.

  7. Gina Nichol says:

    John,
    It’s amazing what you’ve done in a few short years. The new site looks great! Thanks for sharing!
    Gina

  8. Manny and Thelma Myerson - friends of the Leshems in The Cascades says:

    Congratulations.
    Wonderful bird photos.
    Wonderful web site.

    With SLRs, both Thelma and I enjoy photography locally.

    Manny (also retired MD)

  9. Jody Stout says:

    Enjoyed this site very much. Have added it to my favorites. Looking forward to the Alaska pix. I have friends, Robert and Carolyn Buchanan that travel with Kennan and Karen Ward taking pix of Polar Bears and Eagles. They spend most of their time in Alaska. Told me about the eagle lady and her live feed of “the feed”. Sad to learn she had passed. If you ever trip acros the Buchanan’s on your journeys, sy ‘Hi’ for me please. They are huge supporters of Polar Bears International.

  10. Wade and Melissa says:

    We would like to thank you for your help and this wonderful site. Your site is a valuable source of information for us as we expand our Birding hobby. Good luck in May, we know what you are going for, as we will be there for the whole month and hope to get a shot of the little guys also.

  11. Lauren says:

    Hi I am a third grader at North Trail Elemantary school and I am Working on a bird project with one of your pictures on it. My teacher said it turned out better than she thought it would so more people will be looking at it than usual and your picture was the best I could find. So can I please use your picture? We will not be selling anything.

    • john says:

      Please let us know your name, a little bit about your project, and exactly which picture it is that you wish to use.

  12. James M Oates says:

    may 1, 2005 photo of laughing gull on i-bird has red legs & incomplete hood-did you hear it laugh? tail could have more white spots in it for a franklin’s?

    • john says:

      I believe the photo to which you refer is that of the full breeding plumage Laughing Gull taken at Chincoteague, VA. It was seven years ago, so I honestly couldn’t tell you if I had heard it “laughing” or not, but Laughing Gulls are very common there and there were many dozen present. Franklin’s Gull in that location would be exceptional. The gull in question has a heavy bill, downward pointed at the tip, and almost no white on the wing tips. If you look at the Franklin’s Gull photos on birdspix.com, note that the bill is much more delicate, and the white on the wing tips is unmistakably pronounced. Also breeding plumage Franklin’s shows a delicate pink blush on the belly, that Laughing Gull lacks. The apparent shape of the black hood in a given photo has more to do with the posture of the bird when that particular picture was taken.

  13. Paige Rothfus says:

    Greetings, John.
    My name is Paige Rothfus and I was wondering if the photos on your website are ok for use in an app for iPhone and Android?
    I am making an educational app that lists birdsongs and I was hoping to provide photos of the birds with the clips to make for easier identification.
    I can credit the photos to you if would like. If you have any questions about my project, do let me know!Looking forward to hearing from you,

    Paige

    • john says:

      Many of my photos already appear on the popular app IBird Pro. I would need to know a lot more details about what you are planning.

  14. I have created a free online ‘Birds of Vancouver Island’ that requires a photo of a juvenile Tree Swallow of which you have an excellent example. The ‘book’ is found on my website and I was hoping that you might contribute said photo.

    Pat

  15. Dickson says:

    Great site, really impressed with what you have seen and photographed. Great goal! I’m definitely going to have to build a blog and share. Thanks again for the trip out to S.T.A.-5 today, great day of birding and photographing. Definitely get in touch with me when you want to come out my way, also hope we can get out again while here in your area for some more birding.

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