Crow Fest 22 — Part 2

Once the nutty attractions of the Hazelnut Happening are exhausted the crows still just wanna have fun — and seem to know it’s now time for the …

Dogwood Disco

A temporary evening scene of colour and sound, the Dogwood Disco is a kaleidoscope of rosy berries, golden leaves, flapping black wings and excited crow calls.

The whole thing lasts for under half an hour between the arrival of the party guests and their departure for the roost just before sunset. They leave behind a bit of a red carpet situation on the sidewalk …

Dogwood trees run for several blocks along Charles Street and, for some reason, the crows seem to start at the west end and, each evening, move a little to the east. They leave quite a lot of berries uneaten. Some sort of mysterious crow etiquette … ?

Perhaps they’re leaving some of the berries for the humans. Apparently they are edible, though from what I’ve read, it would take quite a lot of work to make something palatable from them. These are Kousa dogwoods, and apparently the pulp of the berries tastes a little like persimmon, but to get to that, you first have to deal with a bitter skin and a lot of hard seeds within the fruit. If you’re interested in doing a little urban foraging, I found this helpful blog post with some tips from T. Abe Lloyd. He aptly describes the berry as “a pink soccer ball on a stick.”

You could also view them as teeny, crow-sized disco balls!

And here’s what the blooms look like in early summer when the street is a river of white …

But back to the crows …

They are clearly undeterred by any finicky concerns about bitter skin or seeds as they dig in for their evening snack, which seems to be as much competition as fine dining.

 

The leaves are still so thick on the branches, it often looks as if the crows are swimming along the surface to get to their prize.

Almost there …. I can already taste it!

Sometimes the berries are consumed in the tree, while others prefer a more stable surface for consumption.

Unless there’s too much competition …

Giving new meaning to the phrase “Fall Launch.”

Like the Hazelnut Happening, it seems that the event is partly about food but, like all good parties, it’s about much more — mixing and mingling, marking the end of summer, and teaching those fledglings about  group etiquette  — all while making as much noise and mess as possible. Woohoo!

Over the course of a week they seem to be getting the the eastern edge of the dogwood feasting area, so I’m not sure how many more nights they’ll be stopping. I expect there’s probably another important Crow Fest venue in their fall itinerary but, if there is, it must be out my walking range.

Who knows where they’re headed next, but keep your eyes open — it might be your neighbourhood!

 

A continuation of Crow Fest Part One: Hazelnut Happening

 

 

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Crow Fest 22 — Part One

Although my last post was about how miserable the local crows are as they go through their annual moult, don’t feel too bad for them — this season is also their most social and joyful.

Several things come together in the the crow world to make fall time the best time:

  • Parent crows are mightily relieved that their fledglings are (mostly) independent
  • Fledgling crows, like teenagers everywhere, are busting to get out there, meet their peers and show off a little
  • Crows, even the still-moulting ones, look fabulous in the golden fall light and glowing autumn leaves
  • There are feasting opportunities/excuses for crow parties all over town

Crow Fest in our neighbourhood begins with …

The Hazelnut Happening

Around the autumn equinox a couple of local hazelnut trees become ripe, and many crows seem to have this date carefully noted in their social calendar. Hundreds of them, and dozens of intrepid squirrels, show up for the event every year.

A few years back a human bravely tried to harvest their share of nuts, wisely wearing a bicycle helmet as protection from the competition. This year, even more wisely, they seem to have left it all for the wildlife.

Normally the crows fly over our neighbourhood at dusk, headed to the roost a few miles east of here with only a few distant caws to mark their passing.

But it’s reliable as clockwork — the very day the hazelnuts are ready, our normally sedate area becomes an evening Crowstock venue, complete with rousing musical accompaniment.

The cawing is accompanied by the random percussion of nuts hitting the tarmac as crows drop them to break the shells.

Bombs Away!

There are other seasonal delicacies on the menu too …

While the raucous crow chaos is the big story here, as with all big events, it’s made up of so many small and personal sub-plots.

I love to pick out small groups or individuals in the crowd and watch them for awhile, trying to parse out the individual stories.

In the seemingly undistinguishable line of crows on the wires, you can often detect a family group — parents and fledglings, or just couples taking a quiet moment in the midst of it all.

The other night I spotted a personal acquaintance on the wires.

White Wing!

I’ve been worried about the Wings as they’ve not been in their usual spot for most of the summer. As if to confirm this was indeed her Wingship, she came down and landed by my feet …

The party rages on, but still full of individual little crow vignettes.

One young, ambitious and agile crow takes a moment to show off the Cirque du Soleil skill set they’ve been working on.

Look, Ma, only one foot!

I’m an a-crow-bat!!!!

Another independently-minded crow in the crowd decides to add a distinctive yip to the chorus of cawing.

A quiet young crow whiles away the time by catching and playing with one of their own recently moulted underfeathers before it floats away on the evening air …

And so the nightly Hazelnut Happening hurtles on for a few days until, finally, the nuts are devoured and relative quietness returns to the ‘hood.

Don’t worry though — the fall festivities are far from over. It’s just time to move on to the Dogwood Disco up the street.

More on this later …

You might also be interest in:

 

 

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A Crow’s Narrow Escape

This week has started with a hawk heart attack.

Barely awake, and with freshly brewed and highly anticipated coffee in hand, I chanced to look out of our back window to the Hydro pole where Marvin, Mavis and Lucky usually perch.

A bird landed on that pole. “Not a crow,” my sluggish brain remarked as I grabbed the ever-handy camera.

A hawk — the first I’ve seen around here all summer.

I looked at the hawk. The hawk looked at me.

Then he or she bent over to preen their feathers …

At that moment another bird landed on the other end of the pole’s cross beam. A crow — Marvin or Mavis!!

My heart stood still. You can see the hawk, still bent over at the bottom left of the the next photo.

Time stood still.

It seemed as if neither saw the other for a micro-second … and then they did!

The hawk dove at the crow and both tumbled off in a flurry of feathers and claws — stage right and out of view behind the shed roof.

Coffee forgotten, I raced outside, very much expecting to find a scene of carnage in the alley.

Instead I found Marvin and Mavis on the next Hydro pole down doing some stress preening and stamping around.

No sign of the hawk.

Marvin quickly returned to the original pole as if to reclaim it, fluffy moulting feathers and all.

Mavis moved to our roof to continue preening …

… and also keep an eye on the sky …

My coffee was a bit cold after all this, but I hardly needed it — heart thumping as if I’d just downed an entire carafe of espresso.

Phew, crazy crows!!

 

PS In case your mind, as mine did, immediately went to Lucky’s whereabouts, I have seen him, safe and sound, since this incident.

 

 

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Crow Parenting, Summer 2022 Part 3

Family life with a pre-teen. I think I remember those days myself.

One minute they’re all grown up and don’t need their parents AT ALL, next — they just need a snuggle and some comfort food.

At least, when I was raising my kids, I didn’t have moulting to deal with as well.

A moulting crow is a cranky crow, and the whole family is starting that process now.

At least the fledgling can entertain himself with his own escaping feathers

At the same time, Marvin and Mavis are dealing with a pre-teen (Lucky) who is going through the two steps forward, three steps back process of learning to feed himself.

Lucky can definitely come and get his own peanuts from our deck. He has demonstrated prowess (well, competence, at least)  in this field.

At first he’d just get one peanut and then wonder what exactly to do with it, but now he’s on to the advanced level of stuffing his gullet to capacity before flying away and hiding some for later, just like mom and dad do.

Other advanced skills include perching on the water bowl and dipping snacks to moisten them.

For most of the day, the family is off on adventures around the neighbourhood, while Marvin and Mavis are presumably teaching Lucky the skills needed to grab more “in the wild” food.

Yet several times a day I still hear Lucky making his begging calls, and every once in a while see one of the parents wavering in their determination to get him self sufficient by stuffing a snack into his waiting beak.

More often the scenario plays out like this …

… and even …

 

 

 

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Crow Parenting, Summer 2022 Part 2

As with all families, there are fractious days when Marvin and Mavis get frustrated with their fledgling — and yet there are just as many peaceful days when the family bumbles along in (relatively) quiet domestic companionship.

I call the following series of videos, Wind in The Wires.

There are no moles, badgers and or rats (though I’m sure some of the latter may be scurrying about down below somewhere) and there’s a noticeable dearth of meandering rivers and lush green woodland in these mini-tales

Instead, I offer you a soothing urban nature bedtime story featuring  East Van alleyways, crows, family bonds, Hydro wires and a stiff breeze.

(Note: There’s a bit of wind noise on the videos because, as the title suggests, it was rather blustery and muting those sounds, while keeping the crow voices, is beyond my technical ability. )

Wind in the Wires One

In which baby crow hangs out with mom while she preens and stretches and finds a stray bit of feather fluff.

 

Wind in the Wires Two

In which baby crow finds his own foot quite entertaining.

 

Wind in the Wires Three

In which baby crow hangs on in a gale and wants to be just like mom.

 

 

Other posts about Marvin and Mavis’s 2022 fledgling:

 

 

 

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Fledgling’s Progress

I try to resist naming fledgling crows until at least September, given the myriad ways in which disaster can befall them in the first few weeks of life. Marvin and Mavis’s young one is tempting me though — and I seem to have started thinking of him as Lucky, rather that just the “safer” Baby M.

Of all the crow parents who built nests this spring, Marvin and Mavis seem to be one of the very few around here with a fledgling surviving into August.

In years gone by all the other crows had much more success at child rearing, with up to three or four fledglings in one season to show for their efforts. Marvin and Mavis’s every nesting attempt met with disaster, until last summer when they successfully raised not one, but two fledglings.

Through a Heat Dome, no less.

This year they only have one, rather doted upon, offspring. His little begging voice is the only one I hear in the neighbourhood. I have to walk a few blocks to find another family with a single fledgling. I’m not sure if this is a Vancouver-wide phenomenon, or just a local quirk.

The Wings suffered some sort of early catastrophe and seem reconciled to a fledgling-less summer

In this area the other crow regulars seem to have resigned themselves to a year off from parenting. They all built nests in spring but, for one reason or another, no fledglings appeared and now there seems to be little appetite for a second, late season, attempt. I wonder if they’re learning to anticipate how dry the summers are getting to be, and remembering how challenging that makes the job of fledgling rearing.

It’s a worrying thought, but it makes me feel all the luckier to see Marvin and Mavis come by most days with little Lucky in tow. It’s such a privilege to watch him figuring the world out, one day at a time.

You can almost see his quick brain absorbing and analyzing every new sign and sound in his rapidly expanding world.

Earlier in July, he spent quite a bit of time napping in the shady Katsura tree in front of the house …

… allowing mom and dad a few precious moments to themselves …

Each parent gets to choose their own self care priority.

Spa treatment … meditation … each follows their own bliss.

I’ve realized that there are few things more peaceful than watching a sleeping bird, riding the gentle waves of the wind-wafted branches and dreaming bird dreams.

These photos were all taken earlier in July, before we went away for a short holiday.

You can see that. his beak was still that bright “feed me” pink, but the eyes had already faded from the bright blue of the first few weeks to a rather lovely soft grey. Marvin and Mavis were still mostly feeding him via “direct deposit” before we left, but also starting to encourage him to pick up his own food.

Worm for the win!!

By the time we came back from our ten day holiday, my first concern was whether Lucky was still with us. I was very happy to hear him squawking from a distance on our first morning back. Phew.

Seeing the family together, I note that Marvin and Mavis are getting incrementally more determined to have him get his own food. While his beak looks less dramatically pink when closed, you can see in the photo below how it still lights up like a beacon when he adopts the “feed me, feed me” pose and the sun catches it.

The begging still works some of the time, but mom and dad are getting a little less indulgent every day.

This morning I noticed Lucky hounding Mavis to bring her some peanuts from our deck railing, a few feet from where they both were. Mavis was having none of this.

Lucky: Mum, mum, mum, mum … peanuts, peanuts, peanuts ….!

Lucky: MUM! MUM! MUM! PEANUTS! PEANUTS!! PEANUTS!!!

Mavis: @#$%&!!!!

Mavis retires to a quiet branch to regroup

If all goes well, Lucky will be pretty independent by September and ready to either stick around with mom and dad until next year to help with nesting chores, or take off on his (or her) own to make their own (exciting, risky) crow way in the city.

Either way, I feel almost as lucky as Marvin and Mavis to have had his entertaining company this summer.

And, by the way, Lucky is already quite capable of getting his own peanuts. For all the fuss this morning, here he was calmly collecting his own food just the day before.  Like all skill acquisition, it’s one step forward and one step back, but there IS progress!

 

 

 

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The Quietness of Crows

“Quiet” and “crow” are, let’s face it, rarely used in the same sentence.

We tend to think of crows as stridently outspoken and rowdy birds, bringing a racket wherever they go.

Crow nesting and fledging time can be especially raucous, with parent crows cawing wildly at fledglings, and at potential threats to fledglings; and the babies begging loudly and unreservedly for food.

Our attention is mostly drawn to them when they are being loud, but crow do spend a lot of time pursuing more secret, secluded and silent crow pastimes.

The large Katsura trees by our our house are never chosen as nest sites, but they do seem make for a perfect crow creche. Often, especially in the afternoon, Marvin and Mavis will come by with their babies and just chill for a couple of hours.

One of my very favourite things to do is peer up into those leafy rooms and see what exactly it is that they get up to during their “down time.”

Here are some of the things I’ve watched Marvin, Mavis, and this year’s fledgling get up to in there over the past few days.

Usually one crow parent takes the opportunity to go off for some “me time” while the other keeps a quiet eye on junior.

Parent on duty.

As the world roars along outside, Junior finds a number of things to pass the time in the peaceful green chamber.

There’s quite a bit of snoozing going on.

When nap time is over, it turns out there are a ton of other things to keep a baby crow amused in a Katsura. Playing with leaves is a lot fun, perhaps because the leaf stem looks just enough like a worm to be interesting …

Also bits of moss are quite entertaining. I imagine this is all part of the important “is this food?” learning that needs to be mastered in these early weeks.

The whole world is a classroom for a baby crow.

Then there’s a lot of s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g to do, preferably without falling out of the tree.

Risky shot of fledging undercarriage …

All those lovely new feathers need careful preening …

Baby M is a few weeks old now so their eyes have moved from that early blue colour to a soft grey now

Learning to be a “covert crow” just like dear old mom.

Mavis, model for Secret Crow image, 2017 … a definite family resemblance

And, of course, there’s trying to figure out what’s up with that strange creature down below with a camera.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this oh-so-quiet little look into the more hidden world of a crow fledgling.

Sneaking away now and maybe baby will go back to sleep and give mom or dad a little more time to regroup before things get rowdy again.

S-s-h-h-h ….

 

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Nesting News – The Walkers

The Walkers and their nest have got me puzzled this year. As you know, the Wings have also got me scratching my head, so it’s generally a perplexing time of year.

The benefits of watching several crow families over a number of years include (1) always having things to wonder about and (2) seeing the endless variety of crow story plot lines.

Mr. Walker, corvid matinee idol, June 8 2022

The story of the Walkers’ nesting season so far:

Unlike the Wings , who live on a street with a big tree canopy, the Walkers have smaller trees to work with, so I was able to see the location of their nest.

Wanda sitting on the nest, early May 2022

A slight wrinkle in the Walkers’ nesting plans appeared a few days after I took the previous photo. The City tree crew hung signs on every tree on their block announcing imminent trimming work.

I know the City crews struggle to keep up with all the maintenance work but I do hate to see the trees disturbed during nesting season. On behalf of Wanda, who was unable to get to a phone, I called and emailed the City and requested that they delay the work until later in the year. Somewhat to my amazement, the signs were removed the next day. Small victories!!

Things seemed to be coming along nicely with the nest. Last week I heard what sounded like at least one fledgling in the nest and Wanda was out and about collecting food with Mr. Walker. I was expecting little Walkers any day.

Instead, I was baffled to see Mr. Walker busily carrying twigs to the next tree down the street a few days later.

At first I wasn’t even sure it WAS Mr. Walker as, in the rain, he looked rather like a Mr. Pants impersonator!

But no — definitely Mr. Walker, as he proceeded to jog along beside me in his inimitable style.  Here he was more recently, clearly working on the soft furnishings stage of Nest #2.

Confirming that something must have gone amiss with Nest #1 is the fact that Wanda has reverted to the early nesting season female behaviour of begging for food. They do this to get their mates into the habit of bringing them food when they’re confined to the nest incubating the eggs. Again, in this case.

Wanda adopts begging posture

Mr. Walker obliges with peanuts …

… having first thoughtfully dunked them in gutter water for extra succulence and flavour.

So there we are … I have no idea what befell of Nest #1.
It could have been any number of things … raccoons, cats, hawks, cars, operator error …

Sadly, it’s not uncommon, and clearly the Walkers are wasting no time in getting to work on a second go. The story, therefore, continues and we hope we have some new little Walkers before the summer is out.

Detail from Mr. Walker’s section of City Crow Stories, showing 2021 fledglings

 

See also: Meet the Walkers (December 2020)

 

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Dear Readers …

Here is something of what I wanted to write last week, which ended up being a whirlwind of packaging and shipping pre-ordered City Crow Stories books in the middle of having the floors in the main part of our house re-finished.

“Before” floors with baffled pets

I’d hoped that the launching of the book and the floor project would fall at different times but they seemed pulled inexorably together like catastrophically aligned meteors. Luckily the convergence was more along the lines of domestic chaos than planetary cataclysm.

Outdoor kitchen set up — almost like a camping holiday!

Because the pre-orders came in as we were madly trying to get the house emptied, and I was still waiting for the books to be printed and bound, it was only when I was actually physically picking up each printed order and placing it with the book to put in an envelope that I saw all the names of people who had purchased one.

The “camping at home” might have been a little nicer if it wasn’t the coldest May in recorded history!

As I  packed each book I smiled at all the names I recognized, ranging from old friends to people I’ve come to know online.

I wished I could write a little note with every order, but things were so overwhelming at that point I felt I just had to keep going and get the hundreds (yes, hundreds!) of books on their way. 

So here is, with apologies for the generalization, the note I wished I’d been able to include:

Thank-you so much for ordering the book.
Thank-you so much for your support over the years (some of you since the first studio sale in the small garden shed I shared with squirrels!)
Thank-you all the encouraging, funny, touching, fascinating emails you’ve sent about your own experiences with crows and ravens and about what my work has meant to you. 

Amid the general madness, I’ve felt very grateful to know so many lovely people.

And a PS — many thanks to those of you who’ve received your City Crow Stories, read it and written back with such kind comments.

Lily was miraculously available to help with some of the packaging. Couldn’t have done it without her!

The Story Behind the City Crow Stories

I first started thinking of creating a book some time in 2020, but the thought just rattled around in my mind,  month after month.

The downside of self-publishing is that you don’t have an editor telling you what to do — the book can be anything you want it to be, which is actually rather terrifying.

By the start of  2022 I was determined to get started, but January and February consisted  of more mental flailing, as I became convinced that I had to write a book to Save The World via crows.

Relief came when I realized that I just needed to write a few stories about some crows I know — and let the crows do the saving on their own!

Some of  my goals in creating City Crow Stories were to:

  • make a book that is full of beauty and humour
  • create a lot of visual space to let the crows’ beauty and character speak for themselves
  • tell the story of how I came to love crows
  • help people realize that “my” crows are not the only special ones
  • offer some tips on how to recognize and make friends with crows
  • encourage people to take a break from the meta-verse
  • inspire curiosity in other lives
  • as stated earlier, save the world, via crows (a girl can dream …)

Meanwhile, on the home front, the floors look lovely. They’re still full of character, but with a lot fewer splinters. In fact, they look SO good we’ve now got to re-paint the walls to match their splendour, meaning we’re still semi-camping out.

The pets remain puzzled …

 

 

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All Quiet On The Nesting Front (For Now)

The crow nesting season goes through various phases, some quiet, others much louder.

Right now we’re in a seemingly tranquil phase

All is secretive and low key as the parents try to keep the nest locations hidden from predators. Sometimes the game is given away when the female, sitting on the eggs, makes begging sounds to remind their mate to hurry up with the food delivery, but generally it’s as if the whole neighbourhood is made up entirely of of very quiet bachelor crows.

Marvin going solo while Mavis sits on the eggs, spring 2022

The mother crow will remain on the nest, incubating 2-6 eggs, for between two and three weeks. Once the eggs hatch, both parents will leave and return to the nest frequently to bring food. Another parental duty is carrying away the babies’ fecal sacs to keep the nest clean. A sure sign of hatched babies is seeing a poop-splattered adult crow — evidence of one of those sacs having failed in the disposal process. The love of a parent truly knows no bounds …

Mr. Walker on dad duty, Spring 2022

This is, of course, the calm before the storm. Soon things will start to get more exciting as dive bombing season begins.

This is such an issue in Vancouver that, a few years back, a Langara College professor created an open-source Geographic Information System called Crowtrax, allowing people to report where they were attacked by crows and thus contribute to a map of the most “crow-terrrorized” parts of the city.

I’m happy to report that there’s been a positive change in the way this part of the crow nesting season in covered by the local media over the past few years. It used to be all Hitchockian horror, with eyeball grabbing headlines about “savage” crows swooping from the sky and randomly mauling innocent pedestrians. In recent times there has been more curiosity about what’s really happening here, and much more thoughtful pieces have been written.

Last year, Georgia Strait reporter, Martin Dunphy, wrote such an article and one of my images was on the front cover.

The article included comments from Vancouver crow scientist, Rob Butler, and myself and was a refreshingly pro-crow look what can be a slightly hysterical time of year.

I have some tips on avoiding getting dive-bombed this year, but first of all it’s helpful understand what’s going on from the crows’ perspective.

The crow parents have been working on this nest since late February, carefully building it, sitting on eggs in secret, carrying bags of baby poop hither and yon, fighting off hawks, raccoons, cats and eagles. They are tired, stressed to the max, and very, very committed to the success of their little families. Now the precious babies are about the leave the relative security of the nest.

These “babies” are almost the same size as the parents at this point, so some people don’t even notice that they’re not adult crows. Sometimes they’re difficult to spot at all as they rest on the ground, camouflaged with dust and leaf litter. They’re often earthbound because, in what seems to be a bit of a design flaw, they come out of the nest before they can fly.

The young crows are curious and eager to explore, but have no idea what might be fun as opposed to fatal. The only things standing between the helpless fledglings and getting stepped on, run over or attacked by animals or birds of prey are good old mom and dad. These exhausted and very tense parents and are the “savage” dive bombers — and it’s really nothing personal, they just want you to STAY AWAY from their precious offspring until they can fly.

In my experience, sometimes the raucous cawing isn’t even directed at us humans. Often they seem to be screaming instructions at their fledging and/or making a lot of racket just to drown out the baby crow noises that might attract real predators.

So try to remember, you’re not in a Hitchcock movie — just a small domestic drama.

TIPS FOR KEEPING YOURSELF AND THE CROWS SAFE

  1. Avoiding the nest area if possible.
  2. If you can’t stay clear, wear a hat or use an umbrella when you walk by.
  3. Try pinning fake eyes (paper drawings, or make some with felt) on the back of your hat or hood. Crows only attack from the rear and if they see a pair of eyes “looking” at them they won’t swoop — according to Seattle crow scientist John Marzluff.
  4. Earn some trust with a small offering of  unsalted peanuts. Not a big pile — just 3 or 4 peanuts as a gesture of friendliness.
  5. This might just be me, but I always speak softly to the parents and tell them what a great job they’re doing.
  6. If you see a crow fledgling alone on the ground, don’t assume it needs rescuing. There will be a parent crow nearby watching over things and, unless the baby is obviously injured, it’s always best to leave it alone.

 

This following little diagram is something I put together years ago as an easy guide to telling fledgling crows apart from adults …

 

Once the baby crows are able to fly the parents will become a lot more relaxed and spend a lot of time feeding, grooming and showing the young ones the ropes of being a successful city crow.

Spending time watching this process will reward you with many laughs as you see yourself reflected in the behaviour of the parents, kids, or both.

 

 

 

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