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Important bird areas


By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller


Important Bird Areas are surveyed and designated specifically for their importance for bird species survival. Birders visit some of these areas regularly to see many of the 233 bird species that breed in Michigan, and the areas are inventoried to identify habitats essential for bird preservation. About 115 species that do not breed in Michigan use the areas during spring and fall migration or as winter residence.

As winter was drawing to close, a couple friends and I visited the Muskegon River Channel outlet into Lake Michigan. About 85 percent of Lake Michigan was ice covered in early March, forcing waterfowl to limited open water. Winter a year ago was tough and our visit was both enjoyable and sad. We saw many ducks that normally stay away from shore, in close view. Ice cover forced large numbers into small areas, where many starved, before ice breakup provided additional feeding areas.

Early March this year was more joyous. Infrequently seen birds were active and we did not see floating corpses of starved birds among them. Many birds were likely hungry and possibly experiencing malnutrition but ice breakup hopefully arrived in time for them to replenish reserves for migration. Lakes Erie, Huron, and Superior still had nearly complete ice cover and were still closed to feeding. Lakes Ontario and Lake Michigan opened in early March.

We observed a Common Eider in the Muskegon river channel. It might be the only eider I see this year. Most eiders winter along ocean coasts but some winter in the Great Lakes before returning to breed in the arctic. The eider seems oblivious to us. Shelled mussels at the bottom of rivers and open water drive feeding behavior. The bird does not comprehend how our presence is important for improving or eliminating survival of their food survival. Many people do not understand how environmental stewardship behavior determines long-term survival for us, eiders and other species.

Many organizations work to maintain healthy habitats essential for people and other species. Michigan and National Audubon Society support inventory of critical habitats of importance for bird breeding, migration, and winter residence survival. Local Audubon chapters provide bird watching field trips, programs, and members preserve bird nature niches. Google Michigan Audubon to find local chapters for monthly programs and field trips. Spring migration has begun. Take the family outside to enjoy wondrous-feathered visitors passing northward on stops in important bird areas to refuel.

Species of excitement in the Muskegon River Channel were Black Scoters, White-winged Scoters, and Long-tailed Ducks. Other ducks rounded out our visit. We observed head banging behavior of male Common Goldeneyes. Males throw their heads on their back and bring them forward to impress the ladies somewhat like head-banging antics of some music groups and dancers. Field guides help identify these dark headed ducks with a white check patch. The females have reddish-feathered head beauty.

We found Tundra Swans in a nearby area. Horned Larks were performing breeding displays in open fields and where females will be incubating eggs. I have found lark nests in March, when snow is still on the ground. Hopefully larks will fledge young before farmers till fields.

We found Glaucous Gulls and Common Redpoles. Meteorologists predicted we are free from extreme cold until November. Lengthening days, ice breakup, and warmer air signals birds to migrate north to important bird habitats for this year’s breeding. Critically “Important Bird Areas” have been identified for bird biodiversity preservation in local and distant areas. Many areas will not be visited by people but birds produced in them will visit human population centers. If preserved in abundance, birds will provide opportunities for millions of people that support preservation to see them and for duck hunters that spend millions to preserve habitats to have sustainable fare on the winter dinner table. Preservation of Important Bird Area habitats will sustain our natural heritage for the present and future.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433 or call 616-696-1753.

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Lunch anyone?


OUT-Eagle2-webOUT-Eagle3-webCherri and Pete Rose, of Solon Township, sent us photos of a bald eagle they spotted near their home. “This bald eagle picked up a rabbit that had been hit by a car and carried it on to Upper Lake to have lunch on Saturday, March 14,” wrote Cherri. “We had seen the dead rabbit in the road earlier in the morning, then saw the eagle fly by our house carrying it. He spent about a half hour eating, then took a long drink from puddles of melted ice. It was awesome to be able to watch him for so long, right in front of our house!” she said.

Thanks so much for sending us your photos!

If you have wildlife photos, please send them to us at news@cedarspringspost.com, along with some info about them.

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Slip off Slope

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Rivers slip off slopes and create cut banks. Rivers, streams and brooks move from side to side to create cut banks and slip-off-slopes that become important habitats for wildlife and plants. The movement of stream channels creates unique nature niche environments.

Belted Kingfishers use cut banks for excavating deep tunnels where they nests. Marsh marigolds flower on slip-off-slopes. Slip-off-slopes floodplains retain water that reduces flooding of homes downstream.

A stream or river channel is the trough filled with flowing water. It cuts deeper every season, decade, century, and millennium. The work is slow but not steady. In spring after heavy rains or snowmelt, channel cutting increases. Once the river valley did not exist and the land was nearly level with the surrounding landscape. Following glacial retreat, water flowed to lower areas and began moving particles. Continued flow cut deeper into the landscape creating river valleys.

When water meets an obstacle like a tree or rock, it is diverted sideways and cuts into the opposite bank of the channel creating a cut bank. What was a straight flowing stream forms a meander. Bank undercutting creates hidden hollows where fish hide. Meanders become larger loops but the stream channel width normally remains about the same size. If it was 3-foot wide or 30-foot wide, the size does not change significantly.

Where the stream cuts into a bank along the outer edge of a meander, water flows faster with greater force. On the inside of the channel’s meander, water moves more slowly and drops sediment. It creates shallower water in the process of filling the channel on that side. As the cut bank is eroded on one side, a new wetland known as a slip-off-slope floodplain is formed on the other. The slip-off-slope is named because the river channel is actually slipping off the streambed as it creates new land. The opposite shore can have a nearly vertical bank. It might only be a foot or two high or almost 100 feet. Over time the river moves back and forth across the river valley.

This can be observed along the Grand River, Rogue River, and even Little Cedar Creek. At Ody Brook, the stream valley is about as wide as a football field is long. In Grand Rapids, roads climb slopes of the Grand River’s cut bank toward the Medical Mile to the east and to the west on I-196 west from US 131. Where the Grand River channel flows through town, we have worked to stop the sideway meandering by constructing concrete walls.

To protect businesses and homes on the slip-off-slope floodplain, it was necessary to prevent stream movement back and forth. One can observe more natural slip-off-slope wetland communities at places like Millennium Park. Ody Brook is a headwater for Little Cedar Creek that feeds Cedar Creek, Rogue River, and Grand River. Upstream from Ody Brook, the channel is dry in August but water flows year around at Ody Brook because springs seep from the cut bank maintaining continuous flow.

Even this small watercourse channel that is 4 to 5 feet wide and usually a few inches deep has cut a valley about 12 feet deep and about 300 feet wide. During flooding as water flows through the wetland forest, the current is slowed and drops rich fertile sediment nourishing floodplain communities.

Mouse “houses” and low bird nests get washed away during high water and minks visit more frequently. Failed nests require adults to rebuild, bare new young or lay replacement eggs. Mice trapped on floodplain islands swim to higher ground. It is not just people that construct homes in locations prone to flooding.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433, or call 616-696-1753.

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DNR conservation officers rescue three who fell through ice on Belle Isle


Department of Natural Resources conservation officers rescued three people early Sunday evening, March 8, after they fell through thin ice on the east end of Detroit’s Belle Isle.
At approximately 4:30 p.m., conservation officers were called to the scene after learning three individuals had fallen through the ice near the marble lighthouse on the east end of the island. Sgts. Ron Kimmerly and Todd Szyska, along with Conservation Officers Michael Feagan and Mike Drexler, responded to the area and split up to conduct foot and vehicle patrols in an attempt to locate the victims.
After getting out of the water, one of the women communicated via cell phone with dispatchers for approximately an hour and attempted to give their location. After searching the entire east end of the island, CO Drexler located the victims on the canal between the golf course and water plant. Sgt. Szyska coordinated with the Detroit Fire Department Ladder 6 and United States Coast Guard personnel as well as EMS MEDIC 12. The conservation officers scaled the fence and rushed to assist the other two victims, who had gotten out of the water and were sitting on the snowbank.

The second woman had lost her shoes and coat in the ordeal and was starting to experience hypothermia when the officers arrived.

The officers administered first aid and wrapped the subjects in emergency blankets, jackets, hats and gloves.

Sgt. Szyska responded with the Detroit Fire Department, U.S. Coast Guard, EMS and a Michigan State Police trooper and carried back boards out to the victims after the lock to the gate had been cut. The responders placed the victims on the back boards and carried them through the 2-foot-deep snow to the EMS vehicle. The victims were showing signs of hypothermia and going in and out of consciousness while being carried out. After the subjects had been placed in the ambulance, they refused to be transported to the hospital.
Earlier in the day, the two women and one man had started walking around the shoreline from the Livingstone lighthouse toward the back of the Belle Isle golf course when they fell through the ice on the canal between the golf course and the water plant.
“This was an exercise in teamwork between various agencies, which resulted in the saving of two individuals,” said DNR Law Enforcement Chief Gary Hagler. “I want to commend our officers, the Detroit Fire Department, U.S. Coast Guard, EMS and the Michigan State Police trooper who all responded to the scene and worked together to rescue these individuals.”

As a reminder, no ice is ever safe, and with the warming temperatures Michigan is currently experiencing, it is extremely important not to walk on rivers or near fast-flowing stream intakes. River currents can cause ice to thin quickly, especially during a spring thaw.

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Tip-ups offer anglers more options on the ice


The spool that holds the line on a tip-up is submerged below the ice to keep it from freezing.

The spool that holds the line on a tip-up is submerged below the ice to keep it from freezing.

Tip-ups have traditionally been associated with northern pike fishing.

Tip-ups have traditionally been associated with northern pike fishing.

From the Michigan DNR

Tom Goniea credits tip-ups with converting him into an ice fisherman. Goniea, a Michigan Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist, said he’d never been ice fishing, when a buddy invited him to set tip-ups. He took an immediate liking to it.

“I felt like an 8-year-old on the ice,” Goniea said. “I was happy to just get flags, and I was perfectly content to catch undersized pike. Tip-ups are relatively easy to set up, relatively easy to use, and pike are relatively easy to catch. But I went on to research where there were lakes with populations that had larger pike in them and started chasing them.”
Goniea eventually became a full-fledged ice fisherman—walleyes, pan fish, even smelt—but says it was his early success with tip-ups that opened his eyes to the joy of ice fishing.

Tip-ups are devices designed to fish set lines through the ice. Tip-ups are equipped with spring-loaded flags that “tip up” when the bait is taken by a fish. Traditionally, tip-ups were constructed of wood with three basic components: a pair of cross-members, which forms an X, and a third piece attached perpendicular to the cross-members. The cross-members straddle the hole in the ice, keeping the tip-up from falling into the water. A simple spool is attached to the vertical member that is submerged (which keeps it from freezing) and a spring-loaded flag is attached to the portion of the vertical member above the ice. When a fish takes the bait and swims off, the revolving spool triggers the flag to release, alerting the angler to the strike. The angler checks the line, sets the hook, and hauls the line in by hand until he pulls the fish through the hole.

Once primarily the output of home workshops, tip-ups are now made by dozens of manufacturers from a variety of materials—wood, plastic or metal—and the basic design has changed, too. Tip-ups now range from a single base member that straddles the hole to round models that cover the hole and are designed to help slow ice formation.

Tip-ups range in price from just a few dollars to many, many times that. One high-tech model even boasts a feature that’ll signal your cell phone when the spool starts spinning.

Traditionally, tip-ups were spooled with Dacron line, though the newer braided lines are becoming more popular. The thicker, heavier Dacron or braid is more visible and easier to handle than monofilament or fluorocarbon line. Anglers typically attach a length of less-visible mono or fluorocarbon to the main line, generally with a swivel, to serve as a leader. The hook is tied to the leader.

“I generally use a couple of feet of leader, though with pike I’m not sure that’s necessary,” Goniea said. “I’m more likely to use a wire leader.”
Tip-ups are more closely associated with pike fishing than any other species here in Michigan, but they can be used to pursue most any species.

Fishermen may use up to three tip-ups at one time. The devices must be marked with the name and address of the owner and must be under the immediate control of the angler; you can’t set them, leave, and come back to check them later. If you did, you’d be missing most of the fun, Goniea says.

“The biggest thrill of tip-up fishing is when you get a flag, you never know what’s on the end of your line,” he said. “You don’t know if it’s going to be 10 inches or 40 inches. If you pick your lakes strategically—choose lakes that are known to have populations of large fish–you never know what you’re going to get.”

Learn more about fishing tips, opportunities and resources on the DNR website www.michigan.gov/fishing.

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Sanctuary vs. Nature Center

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller


A nature sanctuary has a primary purpose for preserving the native species that inhabit ecosystems evolved in a particular environment. A nature center’s focus provides education and human experiences in nature to help people understand the intricate workings of the natural world communities.

Sanctuaries and nature centers can serve both purposes to some degree. I receive calls and e-mails from people interested in exploring Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary. Visitors are welcome even though the sanctuary is a privately owned sanctuary. We appreciate groups and people to call or e-mail to request permission so we know when to anticipate use or schedule guided activities. Donations are welcome to support management. The trail system traverses native communities in various stages of plant and animal habitat succession.

We manage the oak upland forest ecosystem to include early succession field, shrub, and pioneer forest stages that attract and maintain the greatest variety of species as habitat communities develop to the mature forest. Similar management in the wetland forest community maintains areas in early stages of community development for more sun-loving wetland plants and animals within the forest.

The management helps more than 250 plant species, 24 mammal, 11 herps, 51 butterflies, and over 100 bird species thrive. We have not surveyed dragonflies, fungi, fish, or other taxonomic groups well but are in the process. Management focus provides suitable living conditions for the greatest biodiversity of native species. Part of the sanctuary focus is to help people learn about native communities so we welcome visitors to come and learn even though primary focus is ecosystem biodiversity preservation. Hopefully people will gain ideas for managing a portion of their property to enhance biodiversity.

Visitors should support safe survival of species that make Ody Brook their home. Create minimal disturbance when hiking Ody Brook. During the 20 years I was director at Howard Christensen Nature Center, our focus was experiential education for Kent Intermediate School District groups where we taught science, social studies, language arts, and mathematics core curriculum to support classroom education with real world experiential education. This was accomplished in native communities and their associated habitats. To teach in native habitats it was necessary to manage the nature center in a manner that preserves natural communities while providing exploratory activities. Both preservation and education were part of the vision for the nature center.

Guided hikes to explore nature niches at Ody Brook can be organized for fee-based programs tailored to personal or group needs. This spring consider an evening watching the woodcock mating display, wildflowers walk, tree identification, bird watching, or other ecological explorations.

Mickey Shortt Jr., a fellow naturalist from North Carolina, recently shared the vision for the role of naturalists and interpreters of our natural and cultural heritage. He said: “At our sites, we are the voice: of the place, of the life within our site, and for conservation and preservation of our natural and historic areas.” I encourage each of us take responsibility for our personal home sites to ensure healthy nature niches greet future generations.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433 or call 616-696-1753.

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Weekly Fishing Tip: Safety tips for spring ice fishing

It’s almost officially spring but there still may be numerous opportunities in different locations throughout the state to get out on the water. Just remember, there are a few important safety precautions to take if you plan to do so:

1. Towards the end of the season, ice becomes rotten and soft. Although ice may still be more than a foot thick, it might not be strong enough to hold someone safely.

2. Don’t forget to still carry the appropriate safety items, such as ice picks and a throw rope. And remember to wear a personal flotation device when heading out.

3. Continue to use the buddy system and know you’ll have someone with you to help if you fall through the ice.

4. Carry a fully charged cell phone in a waterproof plastic bag. Make sure it is easily accessible on your person in case of an emergency.

5. Pay attention to the weather. If it hasn’t been consistently cold or if there has been a lot of wind you can’t guarantee there will be solid ice to head out on.

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Limits of Cold Tolerance

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Mike’s water line burst in the crawl space at -23 F, Charlie and Julianne had the main water line to the house freeze at -16 F, and we had a kitchen waterline freeze. Mike replaced a 6-inch section of piping and the others, with quick attention, were thawed with no damage.

Significant below zero temperatures in the area have not occurred in 20 years. Cold air settles in the lowland at Ody Brook. During a recent week, two days experienced -15 F and another -16 F.

For wildlife the cold can be more than an inconvenience. Locally millions of animals, mostly insects, likely froze during February’s cold snap. Some survivors were probably maimed. Such events are hidden from our view. Opossums have established more northerly and we can expect frostbit, stub-tailed animals this spring unless the naked tailed animals had well protected shelters. Many opossums likely froze because they do not have a well-developed under fur and protective guard hairs like mammals better adapted to this climate.

Insect species inhabit areas with suitable climate and expand populations northward when milder climatic conditions allow. Each year Painted Lady butterflies immigrate northward, reproduce, and late season offspring succumb during winter. Other species have partial success until an extreme winter ends range expansion. Life expands, from best survival conditions in core habitat areas, to outlying fringe areas, where generations over time might develop survival adaptations to new conditions. The new local genotype adaptations get passed on to offspring.

Flowering Dogwood trees from Georgia, sold at plant nurseries in Michigan, will not be as hardy as those with local genotypes developed in a northern climate. Nursery purchasing agents probably buy appropriate plant stock but ask for stock origin when buying.

Over-wintering Giant Swallowtail butterflies spend the winter in pupae and are thought to die during Michigan winters. Most probably do but there might be exceptions. I’ve found them in some habitats year after year and not in suitable neighboring habitats. That indicates that some populations have succeeded in isolated areas. In the mid 1990’s, -30 F eliminated the Giant Swallowtail from even those limited areas. It was several years before immigrants established colonies in those areas again.

Eastern Bluebirds used nest boxes at Ody Brook but the -30 F froze a bird during the night. In the morning a survivor sharing the nest box tried to leave but its wing feathers were frozen to the dead bird and it could not break free. It was found hanging dead outside the nest box hole. I wonder if more birds had huddled in the box and survived.

Nuthatches, Brown Creepers, chickadees and many other birds spend the winter picking millions of hibernating insects from vegetation. Even one failed food-finding day could spell death and successive day failures result in starvation. Fortunately the Black-capped Chickadee has a hibernation-like torpor during the night to help it save energy and survive. Once I saw a chickadee eating a dead chickadee and it insured existence through another winter’s day.

A multitude of insects undoubtedly perished in recent cold but their bodies continue as food for other animals, fungi, bacteria, and Protozoans. Those that selected winter hibernation sites that became buried in snow have a better chance for survival. Deep snow is fortunate. The Viceroy butterfly winters as a tiny 1/8-inch long caterpillar in a curled willow leaf tied with silk to the twig. Will its nature niche adaptations developed over millennia ensure survival this year? Interestingly, Florida Viceroy genotypes have developed unique genotype adaptations to that climate and its predators.

Local aspens might not be adapted to -20 F and many could experience tree bark splitting injuries in extended cold, while those in northern Canada have adaptations to survive to -40 F. Take a walk to look for fresh splits in tree trunks and branches. They are good places to watch birds and squirrels eating sap-sickles when tree juices flow. Yes, its time for us to taste sugary sap-sickles. Any season is good for nature exploration.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433, or call 616-696-1753.

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DNR’s annual frog survey marks 20th year


The Department of Natural Resources announced this week that its 20th annual statewide Frog and Toad Survey would begin this spring. Michigan’s survey is second only to Wisconsin’s in longevity.

The DNR Wildlife Division coordinates and analyzes data for the survey, while volunteers throughout the state conduct the field work for the survey. These annual survey efforts help biologists monitor frog and toad abundance and distribution in the state.

“We have collected a large, valuable data set to help us evaluate Michigan’s frog and toad populations,” said Lori Sargent, the DNR’s survey coordinator. “We’re now able to start watching trends and thinking about how to slow down some of the species’ declines.”

For example, Sargent pointed out that over the past 19 years Michigan has seen a decline in Fowler’s toads and mink frogs, two species that have a limited range in the state, unlike most of the other species that occur statewide.

Declining populations of frogs, toads and other amphibians have been documented worldwide since the 1980s. Studies suggest amphibians are disappearing due to habitat loss, pollution, disease and collection.

Volunteer observers conduct the surveys along a statewide system of permanent survey routes, each consisting of 10 wetland sites. Observers visit these sites three times during spring, when frogs and toads are actively breeding, listening for calling frogs and toads at each site, identifying the species present and making an estimate of abundance.

“We could still use some new volunteers in all parts of the state,” Sargent said. “Please consider joining us for a fun, educational time every spring and adopt a route. The continued success of the program is dependent on strong volunteer support.”

Those interested in volunteering should contact Lori Sargent at SargentL@michigan.gov or 517-284-6216 and provide their name and address.

More information on the Frog and Toad Survey and other projects supported by the Nongame Wildlife Fund is available at www.michigan.gov/wildlife.

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Successful year for Master Angler program

Did you know there are fish this size in Cedar Springs? Richard Virkstis, of Walker, made the Master Angler list in 2011 when he caught this Northern pike in Lime Lake, just west of Cedar Springs. It was 44.5 inches long, and just under 20 lbs.

Did you know there are fish this size in Cedar Springs? Richard Virkstis, of Walker, made the Master Angler list in 2011 when he caught this Northern pike in Lime Lake, just west of Cedar Springs. It was 44.5 inches long, and just under 20 lbs.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources today announced the results from its 2014 Master Angler program—a program that has been in place since 1973 to recognize large fish caught by recreational anglers. This past year, 987 anglers representing 19 states and Canada submitted catches that were recognized as Master Angler fish. That is a decrease from the 1,208 fish recognized in 2013. Of the entries accepted, 327 were categorized as “catch and keep” and 660 were categorized as “catch and release.” The most popular 2014 Master Angler entries by species include:

84 smallmouth bass

76 bluegill

60 crappie

57 channel catfish

56 rainbow trout

54 rock bass

37 walleye

Master Angler entries for 2014 included five state records, including flathead catfish (52.0 pounds, caught on Barron Lake by Dale Blakley of Niles); white perch (1.93 pounds, caught on Muskegon Lake by Aaron Slagh of Holland); brown bullhead (3.77 pounds, caught on Alcona Pond by Jared Gusler of Fairview); black buffalo (41.25 pounds, caught on Bear Lake by Joshua Teunis of Grand Haven); and quillback carpsucker (8.25 pounds, caught on Hardy Dam Pond by Benjamin Frey of Grand Rapids).

Submissions for the 2015 Master Angler program are being accepted now through Jan. 10, 2016. To download an application, visit michigan.gov/masterangler. Anglers are encouraged to submit their applications as fish are caught, rather than holding submissions until the end of the year.

The DNR reminds anglers that it is now even easier to participate in the Master Angler program, since the weight requirement has been removed for catch-and-keep entries. Anglers will no longer need to find a commercial scale to weigh their fish, as both the catch-and-keep and catch-and-release categories will now be based only on length. However, anglers should keep in mind that state-record fish still will be determined by weight.
Dozens of photos showing a variety of Master Angler catches over the years are available on the DNR’s Facebook page in the Master Angler photo album.

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