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#NotesFromTheRiver - Herons & Egrets Overview


I'm afraid Time has not been my friend lately as I frantically strive to meet various publishing deadlines, but I have really missed doing my #NotesFromTheRiver posts, so I'm doing something a bit different today. I'm going to share some highlights from one of my new series of presentations, "Central Florida's Fabulous Wildlife." These are PowerPoint slide shows that I do for various local venues, such as Enterprise Heritage Center & Museum and DeBary Hall Historic Site. I know many of you are unable to attend these events, though I hope you'll be able to one day. In the meantime,  I thought perhaps you might enjoy seeing some of the actual slides used in the Herons & Egrets presentation. (Note, there are a LOT more slides than this, but I tried to pick the ones with the most information contained on them.) So, without further ado, dim the lights, sit back, and enjoy the show!

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#NotesFromTheRiver - Back Again With Some Exciting Announcements!

Greetings, all you fans of Florida wildlife and the St. Johns River! I know I've been MIA for some weeks, but I'm slowly digging myself out of the hole I fell into, and I'm hoping you'll forgive me for the long absence. I've got some fun things to share with you today, and with any luck, should be able to resume weekly posts next Wednesday.

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#NotesFromTheRiver - Here Comes the Stork!



NOOO! Not the Baby-Carrying Kind of Stork! 

The Nesting Material Carrying Kind, Like THIS:

Wood Stork
(Mycteria Americana)


Last week, I hinted I'd be talking about something quite beautiful in the air, but possibly a bit less so on the ground, and here it is--the wood stork. For some reason, I really love this big guy, and I hope by the time you learn more about wood storks, you'll learn to love them, too, if you don't already.

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#NotesFromTheRiver - Introduction to Central Florida Yard Birds - The Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal
(Cardinalis cardinalis)


Today, I'm beginning a series of posts about the birds that call our backyards home. You know the ones I mean. You see these guys at your birdfeeders or singing from the branches of your shade trees. Maybe you have a vague idea of what they are, but don't know much about them. Or maybe you've been trying to ID them, and haven't had any luck so far. I'm hoping this series (which will be interspersed here and there between other posts in the months ahead) will help you recognize what you are seeing and learn a bit more about each species. We'll be taking them a one or two at a time, starting with some of the most common of all. Even non-birders will likely have noticed these guys and maybe even identified a few of them, already.

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#NotesFromTheRiver - The Tiny Terror

Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake
(Sistrurus miliarius barbouri)

Last week, I told you all about the largest venomous snake in the United States, the eastern diamondback rattlesnake. Today, I'd like to tell you about his "dotty little cousin," the dusky pygmy rattlesnake. If diamonds are the hallmark of last week's big boy, polka dots are the hallmark of this week's little guy. And yes, he's a pretty small snake, averaging about 15" to 22" in length, though once in a great while, you might see one a bit larger. I never have, but YOU might. Who knows? I've heard there are a few out there. But being under 18" on average, these guys aren't as long as a full-grown eastern garter snake, which can get up to 28" or longer.

The Dotty Little Cousin,

Duskies are covered in fairly uniform black polka dots
against a lighter grayish tan background,
and often featuring one row of rusty-colored dots down the center of the back.
These are quite bright on some individuals and paler on others.
(Note the difference between the first photo and this one).
They look like you stuck your fingertip in black paint and dotted them all over,
and that's how you distinguish them from any other snake in our area.

Beware those DOTS! The dusky pygmy rattlesnake, which is the subspecies we have in Florida, is pretty small, as I say, but this does not mean it isn't something to be very careful of. They are tiny, but they are also BITEY. In fact, the vast majority of venomous snakebites in Florida are attributed to this little rattler. While I hesitate to suggest reptiles have human emotions or characteristics, I have to say the first word that comes to mind when I see one is "pugnacious." Now this might not always be the fault of the snake. Since they are small, they are easy to overlook, resulting in
people getting too close for the snake's comfort. And a guy's gotta defend himself, after all.

Notice the dots?
And check these next two pics out to see what I mean about size.


Admittedly this is a BABY, but the problem is the same.
Small snake, harder to see, but BABIES are BITEY, too.


Note the blade of grass for size reference 

As I say, because duskies are so small even when grown, people often approach way too close before they notice them, which can trigger the snake's defense mechanism and result in a bite. Like most snakes (and other wild animals), they'd really rather be left alone. And as I explained last week, venomous snakes hate to use their primary means of securing food in order to bite something they can't eat. I believe the large number of snakebites attributed to duskies is simply because face-offs between them and humans happen more frequently. They just aren't as easily spotted alongside  a wooded trail, or hiding under a plant. Or on one, in this next photo.

Palmettos. Under them or on them, they are often a snake's favorite place to chill.
Until YOU come along, and then, to paraphrase an old song, the chill is gone.

Now, understanding the above will not make you any happier if you do manage to get bitten anyway, so I'm going to suggest that when you are in a natural area in central Florida, you learn to practice being observant. Watch your step, and don't ask for trouble by sticking your hands in places where snakes might hide. Under logs, beneath bushes, behind a rock, etc. There may not be a snake within miles, but why take that chance? After all, there could also be one right in the middle of the path you are following, a la this slightly bigger pygmy. (Um . . . is that an oxymoron?)

Bigger Bitey Boy

As they say at Disney, PUHLEEZE watch your step and back away from situations like the above, until the snake has disappeared into the underbrush. Remember, it's pretty much up to you to stay safe, whether it's from snakes, hornet's nests, or angry raccoons. Wildlife is something to enjoy from a respectful distance, after all.

Now a word or six on snakes in Florida. Last week's post generated a lot of comments from folks who now envision the state as being buried beneath scaly, fanged reptiles, waiting their chance to attack unwary tourists at every opportunity. I'd like to reassure you that while I want folks to learn how to avoid danger when enjoying hiking or camping, the majority of people living in Florida have never seen a snake of any sort around their homes, much less a dangerous one. Yes, they are "out there," but they do try to avoid contact with people, and MOST of the time, they succeed at that. They don't LIKE us. In fact, they probably hate us worse than we hate them. So, you are perfectly safe to join the thousands of people who visit Florida (or move here) on what seems to we natives like a daily basis. I promise your chances of running into trouble of the scaly, bitey kind are minimal. But a wise person once said "Forewarned is forearmed," and that's my goal with these posts.

To bring home my point and put things into perspective, let me show you some interesting statistics. This is the approximate number of snake fatalities per year in the United States, compared to death by other happenstance.

Notice that over 162,000 people die each year from lung cancer. Vehicular accidents cause over 37,000 deaths annually. Lightning strikes, bee stings, dog attacks, and even spider bites kill more people in this country than snake bites. The annual estimate for snake bite fatalities is SIX. Most years, less. In a country this big, with many, many reptiles in various habitats, that's extraordinary. People get bitten now and then, yes, but improved medical care and antivenin (as opposed to anti-VENOM, which isn't actually correct) save lives.

Of course, I realize you don't "come down" with lung cancer because you spent two weeks in Florida, but truly, you are not likely to be bitten by a venomous snake while on vacation. Or if you're from Britain, while on holiday. (Oh, I love it when I'm bilingual! Hahaha.)

Now bear with me, while I share another set of statistics I find fascinating. Even folks who live in the United States think Florida is a hotbed of writhing reptiles, waiting to sink their fangs into random passersby. Well, guess what? When it comes to states with venomous snakes, Florida isn't even listed in the TOP TEN! Nope. Here's the countdown to the number one state for venomous snake species:

10. Missouri - 8 
      9. S. Carolina - 9 
      8. Oklahoma - 10 
  7. Georgia - 10 
     6. California - 10 
       5. Mississippi - 10 
   4. Alabama - 11 
         3. New Mexico - 12 
 2. Texas - 15    
     and the WINNER IS:

                 1.  Arizona - with 19 venomous snakes!!!!  

Florida's total of SIX seems miniscule compared to 19! And the timber rattlesnake & copperhead are only found in the panhandle area, in the northern part of the state. So, see? If you are still afraid to vacation in Florida, how will you ever be able to visit Arizona? *shock* (Heck, even I might be nervous about that, though I have tromped through the Anza-Borrego desert in California, looking for, but never finding a single one of the TEN it harbors! Now, don't you feel better about that trip to Disney World next year? *grin*

Here are a few more interesting tidbits about dusky pygmy rattlesnakes. Like all pit vipers, duskies have fangs that fold back against the roof of their mouths when not in use. This is a small view of a small snake. (That's a man's finger behind the head, to give you an idea). The fangs are very tiny, but sharp as needles, and fairly dripping with hemotoxic venom. Being a small snake, the venom glands are equally small, so the amount of venom this guy can inject is not a lot, but it can cause some very, very painful bites, with necrosis working away at destroying tissue and blood. If the snake is full grown, unlike this tiny one, the amount of venom the snake chooses to inject can cause disfigurement and even amputation of fingers or toes. You won't die. But you sure as heck won't be having fun for a while.

I also talked last week about the fact that all pit vipers give birth to live young, via a process quite different from mammals. Here's how it works, again. Most snakes are oviparous. (They lay eggs in a sheltered spot, under a log, or something similar). Pit vipers, which include rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, and copperheads, are ovoviviparous. This means that the female snake carries those eggs inside her body until they hatch, and then gives birth to them. It's a system that keeps the eggs significantly safer from predators than they would be simply lying under a log. And that translates to a higher survival rate for these snakes. So, you'll never find a clutch of rattlesnake eggs anywhere, which might be a good thing for you, as well as for the snakes.


The rust-colored spots down the spine of this little guy are quite bright,
though they may be a softer color on other individuals.

Dusky pygmy rattlesnakes usually give birth to 5 to 7 babies at a time, and the babies measure between 6.2" to 6.8" in length. The longest wild dusky pygmy rattlesnake on record was found in St. Petersburg, Florida, and measured 25.1" or just over two feet. I have seen five or six of these guys over time, and none was over 18 inches, which is about average for an adult.

Here's a typical baby dusky with a penny for size comparison.
Notice the polka dotted pattern, and the start of the rusty colored spots
down the center of the back, which is the only place that color appears.

The range of the dusky pygmy rattlesnake extends north to South Carolina, and west into Alabama, Missouri, and Louisiana. It is a subspecies, as I mention above, so it's possible that its range overlaps with that of the other pygmy rattlesnakes, though not in Florida. The dusky is the only one we have here.


Tiny Little Snake with Tiny Little Rattles


One last caution for you. As you can see in this picture, the dusky pygmy rattler does have rattles, but they are very, very small. Even when they aren't damaged, the noise they make is more like an insect buzzing than anything that would really alert you that a pugnacious, bitey little guy is close. So at the risk of sounding repetitive, please remember to keep your eyes open when you are in any area where snakes are often found. Look sharp, and you should be just fine.

That pretty much wraps up this week's post, and finishes off my four part series on Florida's venomous snakes. I hope you've enjoyed learning about all of them, and have memorized the easiest ways to recognize them. I also hope you won't go randomly bashing snakes over the head with stout sticks. They have a VERY important job to do. Remember, they do not carry a single disease that harms humans, while a large portion of their daily diet consists of things that do. Like rats and mice. Without snakes, our homes would be overrun with vermin that are far more likely to cause us health issues than any snake would be.

Next week, I'll be focusing on something which for some of you will have less of a shiver factor. I'm pretty sure it will have feathers instead of scales, but in the interest of surprising you, I won't be more specific than that.

Thanks, and Stay Tuned for Next Week's Decidedly More Avian Post!
And if you get a chance, head out on the river with Doug and Captain Dooley
for an adventure on board the Naiad!
You'll LOVE it!


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#NotesFromTheRiver - Rattlesnakes on Parade: Watch Your Step!

A Seriously Annoyed Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
(Crotalus adamanteus)

A change of pace from birds today, with a post about one of the last two dangerous snakes found in central Florida. The last two species, that is, not the actual last TWO. I've done previous posts on the eastern coral snake and the water moccasin, and today, I want to talk about the Big Guy--the eastern diamondback rattlesnake. Next week, I'll deal with the Little Guy, the dusky pygmy rattlesnake. In the panhandle area, you can find timber rattlesnakes (a/k/a canebrake rattlesnakes) and copperheads, but we don't have them here. However, of the two we have left to talk about, one holds the distinction of being the largest rattlesnake the United States, and the other is the one with the most bites attributed to it. Since they are both snakes you want to avoid cornering or stepping on, I'd like to show you how to recognize them. You'll want to give them a plenty of space if you spot them in the wild, and call for a professional to remove them if you spot them in your yard or (gasp) house. So without further ado, let's get started on the eastern diamondback rattlesnake.

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Alert the Media! Enterprise Heritage Center & Museum Extends Doug's Photo Exhibit An Additional Two Weeks!

Great news, everyone, especially if you haven't yet had a chance to check out Doug Little's fantastic photography exhibit at the Enterprise Heritage Center & Museum. This popular exhibit has been held over for an additional two weeks, so you still have time to stop by the museum, located at 360 Main Street in Enterprise, and see for yourself just how stunning Doug's photos are. The exhibit is free, but this wonderful little museum gratefully accepts donations.

To whet your appetite, here are a few of the kinds of things you'll see (and be able to purchase) on display through the 15th. Doug also has his notecards and calendars available for purchase as well.

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Wonderful Volusia County Beacon Article featuring St. Johns River Eco Tours

Absolutely fantastic article in the Beacon this week. This is what St. Johns River Eco Tours is all about, folks, and why it's the best two hours you can spend in central Florida. I hope you'll check out this wonderful article, after you've perused a few photos here, and then I hope you'll immediately book a tour on the Naiad and see for yourself. Doug, along with the very able Captain Dooley will enlighten you on all things pertaining to the river and its wildlife, and will make you laugh along the way. And that doesn't even take into consideration the many stunning photo ops you'll have.

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#WednesdayWonders - The Photography of #DougLittle

West Indian Manatee (Trichechus inunguis)

In honor of wildlife photographer extraordinaire Doug Little's one-man exhibit at Enterprise Heritage Center & Museum this month, I thought maybe you guys would enjoy a #WednesdayWonders post featuring some of my personal favorite photos of his. Yes, you read right. Doug's photography will be on display at the museum throughout the entire month of April, so I hope those of you in the area will stop by to view--and possibly purchase--some of Doug's most beautiful work. He has greeting cards and calendars on sale, as well, I believe.

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Another LBJ For Ya!

Aggressive Much?
(Yes, Where Protecting the Nest is Concerned)

This week's post, though shorter than usual, continues our exploration of central Florida's most common LBJs. (In case you haven't yet read last week's post, LBJ is a highly technical birding term for hard-to-identify species. The literal translation is "Little Brown Jobs," and is widely used among frustrated birders everywhere.) My time today is somewhat limited, as I'm getting ready for company next week, and have the usual 6,000 things to do before they arrive, but I'll do my best to give you some pointers on another common LBJ, so you'll soon be able to call them by their correct names. Maybe. (They ARE difficult, remember.)

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Three Common LBJs (Little Brown Jobs)

Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)

As promised, this week's post veers slightly away from the shoreline of the St. Johns and into the backyards of local residents, focusing on those frustrating sightings that often can't be called anything other than "a couple more of those little brown jobs." Each of today's examples is a bird seen--but not always identified--frequently in our area, either year-round, or during migration. I'll do my best to give you some clear examples of what they look like, but I can't promise it will always be a help, unless you get a really clear view of said LBJ, or can make the identification based on habitat or activity. So, without further ado, here's my selection for this week.

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To Paraphrase Neil Sedaka - Catching Up is Hard To Do

Yo! *standing on a box, waving madly* Remember me? Marcia? I'm the Official St. Johns River Eco Tours Blogger. Yeah, the one who hasn't been blogging for months and months. But remember way, way back--before September 10, 2017? Before the Wicked Witch of the South (Hurricane Irma) threw a tree at us, smashed our garage and cars to smithereens, and brought a hoard of contractors, roofers, stonemasons, electricians, plumbers, drywall hangers, framers, and painters down on our heads? I used to come around weekly in those long ago days, and regale you (to the best of my abilities) with images and what I hope was witty commentary on all things related to central Florida wildlife and habitats. Any of this ring a bell? I hope so, because what I wanted to tell you is--I'm back!

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Yo! Pop Quiz!

I thought my time would be mostly my own as the last few bits and pieces of reconstructing our hurricane damage fell into place. I thought WRONG. Oh, so wrong! This last week of inspections and touch-ups and details has been insane, resulting in my not being able to post at all last week, and in really curtailing my activities this week. However, I decided I would touch base with you guys, and figured a brief, little quiz might be fun. With that in mind, pencils sharp everyone. No talking. Eyes on your own paper. And remember, neatness counts!

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The Fairest of Them All - My Top Ten

When you see a gorgeous bird or a beautiful flower, do you find yourself thinking, "That's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen?" I do. So often, in fact, that I realized I MIGHT be exaggerating. Yes, me. The Queen of Hyperbole might be overstating things somewhat. A wee bit. Maybe. So, I asked myself to reconsider and come up with the Ten Most Beautiful Things Often Spotted Along the St. Johns River. Well, MY top ten, anyway. And here, in no particular order, are my winners for your consideration.

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Presentations, Photography, and Information, Oh, My!

DeBary Hall Historic Site

The house is full of workmen again today, so my time is limited, but I just had to find a few minutes to share some exciting Coming Attractions with you. *Trumpet Fanfare Here*

Ahem. I'm very happy to announce that on Saturday, January 13, at 2:00 PM, Doug Little, owner of St. Johns River Eco Tours and wildlife photographer extraordinaire, will be joining me at DeBary Hall to help me kick off a new series of programs I'll be presenting at the Hall throughout 2018. Saturday's program (and the entire series) will feature many of Doug's fantastic photographs, in addition to lots of interesting facts about each species being discussed.

The name of the series is "Central Florida's Fabulous Wildlife," and each program will focus on one animal, or group of related animals, native to the St. Johns River Basin area. Along with a slide presentation, I will endeavor to share as much information on every critter as I can cram into the time allotted me, and I'm a pretty good crammer! Hopefully, those who attend these events will learn new and interesting things about the wildlife and habitat along our beloved river.


The January 13 program will be an overview of the series, giving you a good idea of what to expect from each future presentation. It will also feature some of Doug's very best work. There will be plenty of time built in for Questions and Answers, and Doug will have his brand new, positively gorgeous 2018 Wildlife Calendars available for purchase. He'll be glad to sign and personalize them for you after the program. I will have all of my books available, as well, for those interested.



Some of the animals I hope to feature in the months ahead include the American alligator, the Florida black bear, herons and egrets, eagles and ospreys, Florida panthers, dangerous snakes, turtles and tortoises, barred owls, and more. And here are some samples of Doug's work, which I will be using whenever possible.

Great Blue Heron


Barred Owl


Florida Black Bear


Turtles on a Log


Bald Eagle

I'm so pleased to have an opportunity to explore the fabulous wildlife of central Florida with you, and I hope you'll join Doug and I on January 13, for what I think will be a fun event! We are both looking forward to seeing you there!

Central Florida's Fabulous Wildlife Overview

Saturday, January 13, at 2:00pm
DeBary Hall Historic Site
198 Sunrise Blvd,
DeBary, FL

FREE, Reservations Not Required

Coming Next Week

"The Fairest of them All"

See you then!



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Why I'm Happy to Bid Adieu to 2017 - #HurricaneIrma

Neighbor's Tree On Our House

Some of you may remember that the last time I posted was September 6, as we were getting ready for Hurricane Irma. If not, here I am, jiggling your memory. On September 10, well before the last of the hurricane swept through Sanford, a series of tornados touched down hither and yon in our area. One of them snapped our neighbor's tree off at the base, and slammed it down on top of (and completely through) our garage! It brought down the roof, the attic flooring, the garage ceiling, rafters, and many a heavy box from the attic--and dumped it all on top of our new Honda, at which point life as we knew it came to a long halt.

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#HurricaneIrma - No Post Today

Like most Florida residents, I am battening the hatches, preparing for the possibility that Hurricane Irma will be wreaking havoc with our state in the next few days. Latest projections show it hitting south Florida by 2:00am Monday morning, with several possible paths after that, one of which comes straight through central Florida, where I live. I'm hoping it wobbles farther east and heads out to the Atlantic to die a miserable death ALONE, away from all of us. But we have to be prepared, just in case.

This is the second most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, and certainly could prove to be catastrophic.  The storm surge and wind damage are the two things to worry about with this one, rather than the terrible flooding of Hurricane Harvey in Texas.

I'll be back as soon as Irma blows over (see what I did there?), and hopefully, this one will NOT turn out to be as bad as some are predicting. This is one case where I hope the educated guesses are wrong, but I don't want to bet my life on that. So, back to removing all the flower pots and other items in my yard that could turn into lethal projectiles in heavy winds. (And BTW, they are predicting tropical storm force wind and rain in my area as early as Friday, so getting things put away or tied down is important.)

Please stay safe, all of you who might be in harm's way. ALWAYS err on the side of caution when storms like this are approaching! See you soon!!


I live right about where the "L" in "FL" is, well within the dreaded Cone of Uncertainty.


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#NotesFromTheRiver - The Fairest of Them All

Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)


The life of a writer is busier than most would imagine, especially when a book is being edited and wrapped up for publication. I love every minute of what I do, but sometimes it does get in the way of other fun things I enjoy, like sharing facts and pictures of what is surely the most beautiful of all our native ducks, the wood duck. (This is my humble apology for taking so long to get back to you, and I hope you'll forgive me for my absence, when you see what I've got for you today.) 

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#NotesFromTheRiver - That Old Coot!

No, no, no! That's NOT the kind of coot I meant!

Now, THIS is more like it!
American Coot (Fulica americana)
Photo by Doug Little

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#NotesFromTheRiver - Ducks That Whistle?

Black-bellied Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis)


Everybody knows ducks quack. Right? Well . . . yeah, sure. But not ALL ducks. Some ducks whistle, believe it or not, and since one of them, the black-bellied whistling duck, is a favorite of mine, that's the one we'll be talking about--and listening to--today.

Black-bellied whistling ducks were called Black-bellied TREE ducks back in the Dark Ages when I first started birding. The name made sense to me, because you so often saw this large, long-legged duck perched in trees, especially along tall, dead limbs that afforded the duck a great view in all directions. I'm not sure if that's why they liked those so much, but that's where they were often spotted. But some time ago, their "official" common name (which is an oxymoron, by the way, since common names are not official, and are often different from place to place) got changed to Black-bellied whistling duck. Unlike many of the other seemingly arbitrary name changes in ornithology, this one actually makes sense. As mentioned above, this bird whistles instead of quacking. If you can't imagine such a thing, go HERE to check it our for yourself. (But come right back. We have lots more to learn about this guy).

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