Bird Lady Blog

May 26, 2015

What I Learned in Africa About Munds Park Birding

African Fish-Eagle

African Fish-Eagle

This past January we took a three-week trip to southern Africa to golf and go on safaris.  I of course also planned to do some semi-serious birding.  Semi-serious in that I made no changes to our itinerary to see specific birds, but I did take with me a field guide of the most common 500 birds of southern Africa and my lightweight Leopold binoculars.  I learned several things on this trip.

  1. There are many families of birds in southern Africa (in our case Zambia, Botswana, and South Africa) that are similar to birds here in Munds Park and were easy for me to identify. For example, we have the Pied Grebe species here, seen regularly in Lake Odell or the Pinewood Country Club’s ponds.   The Little Grebe species of southern Africa is similar but even smaller.  We were golfing, and there it was in a pond near the 1st tee box.  It is so small that at first I thought it was a baby or juvenile.  Another example is the African Fish-Eagle.  It has a white head and dark body and you would think “Bald Eagle” when you first spot it.  We see an occasional Bald Eagle in Munds Park soaring in the sky or perched high in a tree limb. We also get Canada Geese in Munds Park, and in Africa they get the Egyptian Goose.  Both species are often considered pests at parks and golf courses because they are so common and so messy.  One of the smaller, similar birds I identified was a Barn Swallow – almost exactly like the ones we have in Munds Park.  And we have our Band-Tailed Pigeon, which is unique to the western United States.  In Botswana I saw the Speckled Pigeon and the African Green Pigeon species.
  2. Another thing I learned is that there are many families of birds in Munds Park that have no connection to any in southern Africa, at least in my non-scientific opinion. I didn’t see nuthatches (we have White-Breasted, Pygmy, and Red-Breasted), or hummingbirds (we have Anna’s and Rufous) or anything similar to our Munds Park’s Black-Headed Grosbeak or Western Bluebird.
  3. There were a lot of bird families I had to become familiar with, and I was helped greatly because we had very knowledgeable safari guides with us. Bee-eaters, Barbets, Bulbuls, Hornbills, and Weavers were just some of the new bird families I saw, and within those families there were different unique species.  The feather colors and sizes and shapes of their bills or head feathers always made for challenging and fun bird watching by all of us on the trip.
  4. Speaking of all of us on the trip, there were 12 of us, and everyone became a mini-birder during those three weeks. Everyone commented that seeing all the birds in between Lion or Hippo watching, for example, made the trip much more interesting.  All in all I was able to identify 125 new bird species – without trying very hard.
  5. The last thing I learned is to be prepared. I took one pair of binoculars – I should have taken at least a second pair.  I could have used stronger binoculars (such as a 10×50) for longer distances, plus others on the trip could have used my spare when I wasn’t.  Having the field guide in advance was a real advantage.  To translate that to Munds Park, I would suggest you have a field guide of US Western Birds, at minimum, handy in your house and invest in a decent pair of binoculars.  I have used Eagle Optics and Amazon when ordering online, and you can find a satisfactory pair for under $200.

September 11, 2013

My Favorite Birding Things – Part 1

Black-Headed Grosbeak courtesy of Gordon Karre

Black-Headed Grosbeak courtesy of Gordon Karre

My newest favorite birding thing is our new cement bird bath, bought this spring at the Munds Park Farmer’s Market.  It is very heavy – made of cement – and sits just about eight inches off the ground on a small pedestal that actually looks like an upside down Bundt pan.  I especially like the blue-colored bottom of the water bowl because it stands out, and I like that it is solid enough that I can hose it down hard to clean it and it doesn’t tip over.  So far I’ve seen Dark-Eyed Juncos and Lesser Goldfinch drinking from it.

My other bird bath is attached to the back deck and it is used a lot by all types of birds, including American Crows.  This one is a plastic tray and it hangs over the deck, so I keep a flat rock in it to hold down the tray if it gets dry and the wind is blowing hard.  Just today as I wrote this article a female Black-Headed Grosbeak took a bath in it.

I have three types of feeders out on the back deck.  One is an inexpensive, plastic stout feeder that has four very small perches.  I put sunflower seeds in it.  The best part about this feeder is that the Band-Tailed Pigeons cannot perch on it.  They dominated my other feeder that has a larger perch, and none of the other birds could have a turn.  So now this feeder is visited regularly by Pygmy Nuthatches, White-Breasted Nuthatches, Black-Headed Grosbeaks, Mountain Chickadees, and Pine Siskins.

The second feeder is an 18-inch tall tube just for nyger seed, and it attracts Lesser Goldfinch and Pine Siskins.  Pine Siskins are small finch-like birds, very plain brown, but with heavy striping on the breasts.    The wings have small patches of yellow, but mostly you can describe them as small, brown-streaked birds.  They usually travel in compact flocks, so where there is one Pine Siskin, there will be others.

My third feeder is a tray feeder I built from some leftover lumber and screen, about two feet square and two inches deep.  This feeder is my concession to the squirrels and the Band-Tailed Pigeons.  Mostly I put sunflower seeds in this one, but sometimes peanuts in the shell or cheaper, mixed bird seed.  The squirrel have learned to precariously climb the three-foot rod that holds the feeder, and the Band-Tailed Pigeons will sit on it six at a time and make it crooked with their weight.

Let me not forget to mention the Acorn Woodpeckers.  They also will come to the tray feeder and the other sunflower seed feeder.  And the peanuts in the tray will attract the Steller’s Jays.  They are stunning in the sunlight with their blue and black iridescent coloring.

June 16, 2013

Spring Has Sprung

Steller’s Jay courtesy of Gordon Karre

May has been a month of transition for all of us:  spring cleaning, raking fallen pine needles, putting away our winter clothes and bringing out the summer wardrobe, and moving up to Munds Park if we were away for the fall and winter.  Our Munds Park birds are making similar transitions:  changing their drab winter feathers to bright colors so they can attract a satisfactory mate, building nests, and finding the best sources for food.  Two Munds Park birds that come to mind with striking colors are the Black-Headed Grosbeaks and the Lesser Goldfinches.  The males of these species are especially beautiful with their contrasting colors of orange or yellow against black and white.

So what should you be doing in preparation for migration and nesting?  First, if you have a nest box, open it up and clean it out.  Discard the old nesting material, shoo out the spiders that may have taken temporary residence, and wash or scrape out any residue.  Make sure your next box is still firmly secured to its post or tree.

Second, if you attracting birds by putting out feeders, make sure they also are cleaned.  You can wash them in a solution of water and a small amount of bleach – don’t forget to rinse them thoroughly.  The same goes for your bird baths.  Keep the water fresh.  If you hang a hummingbird feeder, remember the following:  the nectar should be made out of white granular sugar and water  – one part sugar to four parts water.  Do not use red food coloring.  The color of your feeder will be enough to attract the birds, and they will be back as long as you keep a fresh mixture.  If the mixture starts turning cloudy, discard it immediately and replace.

Lastly, start thinking about how you can protect your birds from window-kills – that is, preventing birds from flying into those wonderful windows we appreciate because of the forest and mountain views, but which can be deadly to our flying friends.  I will have more information about what you can do to prevent window crashes in a future article but would also like to hear what practical solutions are working for you.

For those of you who are relatively new to our Munds Park birds, here is a short list of the common birds you will see in our area:  Lesser Goldfinch, Mountain Chickadee, Acorn Woodpecker, Steller’s Jay, American Robin, Western Bluebird, Black-Headed Grosbeak, Band-Tailed Pigeon, American Crow, Turkey Vulture, and Common Raven.  And some of the harder-to-find ones will be Summer Western Tanager, Painted Redstart, Red Crossbill, and House Wren.

August 6, 2012

Munds Park Bird Walk

Photo Courtesy of Gordon Karre; Immature Pied-Billed Greve

Our Munds Park Bird Walk on Sunday, July 15th, was held after a day and night of heavy rain.  However, a morning sun and blue sky greeted the dozen birders who met up in the Pinewood Country Club parking lot at 7 a.m.  We Munds Parkers were joined by two gentlemen from Mesa and one from Flagstaff, all of whom helped make our bird walk a very pleasant and informative session.

Our first stop was at the Pinewood Country Club golf course.  Because of the heavy rain the night before, golf was delayed for an hour, so we could bird to our heart’s content without interfering with any golfers.  We spent about 45 minutes at the pond between holes 1 and 18, and immediately we were rewarded with sightings of several Yellow-Headed Blackbirds.  We believe they have nested here this year because we spotted a couple of juveniles in the group. The Red-Winged Blackbirds, Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows, and Violet-Green Swallows were abundant, as were the American Coots.  We were treated to great looks at three recently-hatched Pied-Billed Grebes following a parent and begging for food.  A surprise was a young Red-Naped Sapsucker that was spotted by Gordon Karre, one of the men from Mesa, who had along his camera and recorded many of our sightings.

Next we moved on to Lake Odell.  We spotted the Osprey nest pretty easily, with no Ospreys in sight, but an unexpected find was a Great Blue Heron nest, again on the opposite side from where we were.  Through the spotting scope we were able to see at least one youngster in the nest, and later that week I received reports from two different Munds Parkers that they had seen the nest as well, occupied with more than one juvenile bird.  At the lake we saw Canada Geese, Mallards, Great Blue Herons, a male Ruddy Duck, Eurasian-Collared Dove, Northern Flicker, Black Phoebe, Western Bluebird, and Pygmy Nuthatch.

Our last stop was at two friends’ front yard on Turkey Trail.  We birders sat on deck chairs graciously provided by our hostesses and saw the following birds come to feeders and bird baths:  House Finches, Lesser Goldfinches, White-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches, a Hairy Woodpecker, and a Mountain Chickadee.  We were hoping for the Red Crossbills to show, but alas and alack, we were not that lucky that morning.  We have since heard they still show up almost daily, with a youngster in tow.

Shortly after 9 a.m. we called it a successful birding walk, and some of us went to the Pinewood Country Club as planned and had breakfast.  There we did a recap of our sightings and just visited with our new birding friends.  Zack Zdinak is the president of the Northern Arizona Audubon Society in Flagstaff and was a great help in finding and quickly identifying some of the birds we saw.  Gordon Karre, who came up to Munds Park for the cooler weather and birding, was our surprise photographer.  He has a blog with photos of many of the birds we saw.  Check it out at  This wonderful photo of a juvenile Pied-Billed Grebe is courtesy of Gordon.

For those of you who want to venture out of Munds Park for a day and participate in a bird festival, check out the first Hummingbird Festival in Sedona August 3rd through 5th.  You can find more information at  For hummingbird lovers here, remember that you do not need to and should not add red food coloring to your feeder sugar water.  Just one part of white sugar to four parts of water is sufficient.  The red feeder will attract the hummers, without the food color additives.

May 19, 2012

Spring and the American Robin

Filed under: Migration,Robin Goldfinch Bluebird Chickadee — Munds Park Birding @ 1:11 pm
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Just as we are returning to Munds Park en masse, so are the birds, and “they’re here” with just as much as enthusiasm as we have, whether we are full-time Munds Park residents or summer happy-campers.  What was the first bird I saw after walking onto our deck on Friday, May 4th?  The American Robin, eye-level to me from our second-story deck and easily spotted in a tree that had yet to produce a full set of the season’s new leaves.

The American Robin is a very popular bird in the U.S., found in 49 of our 50 states.  It is a worm and grub-eating bird that you will see on front lawns, golf courses, and grassy areas in parks, and in general is found in woodlands as well as open farm areas and urban areas.  It is one of the first birds to breed in the spring and one of the first birds to sing at the break of dawn.  “The early bird catches the worm” does indeed seem to describe the American Robin, although my research shows that this saying was first recorded back in the 1600’s in a collection of English Proverbs.  The American Robin is a stately, upright bird with a red breast, gray-brown upper parts, and white lower-belly and undertail.  Do you know what three States have named the American Robin their official state bird?  The answer is Connecticut, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

I spent most of the first weekend in May stocking the kitchen and freezer and golfing, but I did manage to see while on the Pinewood Country Club golf course quite a number of birds.  Here they are in alphabetic order:  American Coot, American Crow, American Raven, American Robin, Band-Tailed Pigeon, Barn Swallow, Black-Headed Grosbeak, Black Phoebe, Canada Goose, Common Grackle, Great Blue Heron, Great-tailed Grackle, Lesser Goldfinch, Mallard, Mountain Chickadee, Osprey, Red Shafted Flicker, Red-Winged Blackbird, Say’s Phoebe, and Violet Green Swallow.

I did see House Finches building nests at the top of the roof overhang at Petsmart in Flagstaff, and I heard them singing in Munds Park.  Lu and Don Cross took a great photo of a House Finch at their deck feeder near Lake Odell and submitted it to The Arizona Republic.  Their photo of the male House Finch and a reference to the bird in Munds Park was printed in the newspaper last month.  This year they also put up a nest box in the hopes of attracting either Western Bluebirds or Tree Swallows.  We will keep you posted if they are successful in getting a nesting pair on their property.

By the time you read this I will have come and gone to Wisconsin to the Horicon Marsh Bird Festival over Mother’s Day weekend.  This will have been the first time I had gone to a formal birding festival, and we had signed up for two guided tours and also to attend some workshops.  I will report what new birds I’ve seen and which ones we also see here in Munds Park in the next article.

March 3, 2012

Migration – A Hazardous Journey

August and September begin the migration period for many of our Munds Park spring and summer birds.  It is a time when birders get excited about the chance to see new and unusual species moving south, yet it is a scary and dangerous time for the birds themselves.  Bad weather, predators, crashes into vehicles, lights, and skyscrapers, exhaustion, and most significantly, the lack of suitable habitat for rest periods, all add up to make the journey a treacherous one.

Birders across our state  – from Lake Havasu, Parker, Rio Rico, Tempe, Glendale and Phoenix – are all reporting sightings of migrating birds, including our summer species of  Black-Headed Grosbeak, Western Tanager, Lesser Goldfinch, and Red-Faced Warbler.

One of my favorite movies is Winged Migration.  This documentary was filmed over the course of four years on seven continents and provides amazing footage of birds migrating over land and sea.  The scenery is beautiful and expansive, but more importantly the movie provides real-life examples of birds, many of them waterfowl, flying thousands of miles, wing-beat after wing-beat, to their wintering home.  If you haven’t seen it, it is worth renting and watching, especially if you have school-age children or grandchildren to share it with.

So where do our birds go for the winter?  The American Robin may hang around up to the dead of winter as long as their primary winter food source of fruit remains abundant.  In the spring Robins switch to earthworms and insects as their primary food source.  When they do migrate from North America, American Robins move into Mexico and South America.  A close relative of the American Robin is the Rufous-Backed Robin, which rarely enters the U.S. from Mexico.  However, my mother and I spotted one during a trip to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior, AZ, a couple of winters ago.  Being on the U of A’s BIRDGW05 Listserv was helpful, because I had received notices of the sighting from other birders.  We knew where to look as a start to finding the Rufous-Backed Robin, which was a lifer for me and her.

Western Bluebirds will also migrate, and sometimes not that far into lower elevations.  For example, for more than one winter in Phoenix we’ve had Western Bluebirds at the Arizona Country Club.  We have no way of knowing if they are Munds Park birds, but we can imagine that perhaps they are.

What about Turkey Vultures?  These are the large, black birds with a wing-span of five to six feet that you see soaring often just east of the intersection of Pinewood Boulevard and I-17.  On September 3rd, before writing this article and finishing up a round of golf, we saw more than a dozen Turkey Vultures circling unusually high in the air.  This flock of Vultures circling within a thermal is called a “kettle.” A kettle will ride the thermal high until it begins to falter, then they move on seeking the next thermal.  By using thermals and moving from one to the next, Turkey Vultures save energy and very rarely have to flap their wings, instead just gliding to cross vast distances.  In Phoenix, Turkey Vultures are typically spring, summer and early fall residents.  For the winter they have migrated even further south into Mexico, but in many of the Southern states, such as Florida, Turkey Vultures are year-round residents.

A wonderful place to view raptor migration is at the Grand Canyon during the months of September and October.  HawkWatch International used to have teams of scientific observers counting hawks, falcons, and eagles from two spots – Lipin Point and Yaki Point.  However, this non-profit has taken some funding hits in recent years and, as a result, has closed a couple of their fall migration projects.  The Grand Canyon project no longer is a HawkWatch International site, but of course birds are still migrating through.  A great day trip or overnight adventure is from Munds Park to the Grand Canyon to stake out one of these locations and watch the raptors soar across the Canyon as they migrate south.  I saw my first Peregrine Falcon at eye-level this way, and the whole experience is wonderful.  Try to pick a warm and not-too-windy fall day, pack a lunch, a folding chair, your binoculars, a field guide, and water, and enjoy the day seeing how many raptors you can identify.

Some of us humans are beginning the migration back to our winter homes.  We pack our cars, fill up with gas, settle into our comfortable leather seats, put on satellite radio, take along water and stop for a cup of coffee or shake or burger along the way.  Think of the birds:  tiny things beating their wings thousands of times, landing quite exhausted in your yard or a park or pond, and then having to seek water, food, and a safe place to sleep.  No Holiday Inn with complimentary continental breakfasts for them.  A hazardous journey indeed.

July 23, 2011

Lesser Goldfinch, Western Bluebirds, Western Screech Owl

When I first started writing about Munds Park birds, I wrote about those that are pretty easy to see even if you don’t think you are a birdwatcher”. That was in June, 2009, when article #1 was published, and some things don’t change – we still have “old faithful” birds that appear easily each year.  So if you missed that article back in 2009, here is a refresher with some new information as well.

Lesser Goldfinches are those “little birds with a lot of yellow” that come to your nyger seed or thistle seed feeders.  You may also catch a glimpse of them flying across the road or from tree to tree on the Pinewood Country Club Golf Course.  The males have a distinct black cap, greenish-black backs, and yellow breasts.  The females and immatures are duller, with greenish upper parts and less pronounced yellow under parts, and with white wing bars.  A relative is the American Goldfinch, a common bird east of the Mississippi, which has quite a bit more yellow.  Lesser  oldfinches are fun to watch as they hop back and forth sharing the pegs on your seed feeder or hanging on to your thistle sock feeder.   Except for in the heat of the day, they appear almost constantly at our feeder, especially early morning and later afternoon.  They feed only on seeds and very seldom take small insects – only by accident it seems.  For those of us who live the in the Valley of the Sun, putting out a similar seed feeder during the winter will attract Lesser Goldfinches as they migrate South to escape the cold weather up North.

If in Munds  Park you live a bit away from the forest and pines and instead have a home with a small open area or grassy yard nearby, you could be lucky enough to attract the beautiful Western Bluebird.  With their blue backs and rusty breasts, Western Bluebirds can be seen in hot pursuit of insects, but they will also frequent your bird feeder if you offer them mealworms.  Bluebirds are cavity nesters and will use a nest box if built to the right dimensions, which includes an entry hole that is 1 and ½ inches in diameter.  If you are a golfer, the nest boxes you see on Pinewood Country Club golf course are for Bluebirds.  Bluebirds have fans all across the country – there is the Eastern Bluebird and the Mountain Bluebird,
neither which I have seen yet.  For more information about Bluebirds, you can visit, the North American Bluebird Society.  The Society is having its annual meeting this September in Jackson, Tennessee, at the same hotel I spend many a night at for business meetings, so I will vouch for its fine accommodations.  And if you are traveling there with a spouse or friend and he/she is not in to birds, try a visit to the many places with Elvis memorabilia.

A little off topic but exciting to report is that this late spring we discovered that Western Screech Owls successfully nested in the next
box I built and put up in our Phoenix yard.  I had given up on ever having a nesting pair in there after one spring the box fell down in a storm and I found two eggs inside, crushed.  We re-hung the box much more securely, but no activity.  We’ve seen and heard the Western Screech Owls in the neighborhood, so I knew they were around.  Imagine our surprise one day near dusk when looking out the window to see something moving around in the cavity hole (3 inches in diameter).  There were two fledglings poking their heads out, and in a about a half hour, a parent bird
appeared on the telephone wire nearby.  Both juveniles then left the box and off they went.  I posted this find on the U of A list service I’ve written about before and got several responses, one from a fellow-birder in the neighborhood.  Two evenings later he was staked out in our back yard (while we were in Munds Park) with his spotting scope and got to see the owls.  For him this species was life bird #518, less than a half mile from  his home.  So you never know what you will find or what new friends you will make when birding. To see a photo of one of the juveniles poking its head out of the nest box see the post on June 1st.

October 8, 2009

American Robin, Lesser Goldfinch, Western Bluebird, and Mountain Chickadee

Filed under: Munds Park Birding,Robin Goldfinch Bluebird Chickadee — Munds Park Birding @ 3:01 am

Western BluebirdHow we all love nature and being here in Munds Park to experience the smells, sounds, and colors that are so different from the other places we live in or visit.  Part of the attraction to the outdoors for many of us is the bird life.  I have been a birder (aka birdwatcher) since I was in 5th grade, and no matter whom I speak with or where I am, people can always relate to or share a story about our feathered friends.   If you are like many us, you, too, are intrigued with the behaviors of birds and their “companionship” as they visit our backyards, feeders, and bird baths. 

Here in Munds Park we have many species of birds that are not found in the desert or big cities of Arizona.  In this first article I am going to write about four of the most common ones – those you typically see from your deck or when out walking or hear in the morning or early evening.

The American Robin, which is so common in the Midwest or East where many of us have come from, is a welcome sight for those of us who sometimes get homesick for the distinct four seasons and the suburbs with their wet and grassy lawns.  Everyone knows that spring is on its way when the Robins arrive.  With its erect posture, red breast, and size, the American Robin is often described as “stately”.  Its beautiful cheery, warbling song, especially around twilight time, reminds us that life is good, but also that each beautiful day comes to an end with dusk.  Robins’ diets include beetle grubs, and you’ll see them searching for these and worms and insects on the golf course fairway.   A little known fact about the American Robin is that it is found in 49 of our 50 states, including Alaska, but not Hawaii.

Lesser Goldfinches are those “little birds with a lot of yellow” that come to your Niger or thistle seed feeders.  The males have a distinct black cap, greenish-black backs, and yellow breasts.  The females and immatures are duller, with greenish upper parts and less pronounced yellow under parts, and with white wing bars.  A relative of the American Goldfinch, a common bird east of the Mississippi, Lesser Goldfinches are fun to watch as they hop back and forth sharing the pegs on your seed feeder or hanging on to your thistle sock feeder.   A little know fact about Lesser Goldfinches is that they are one of the few birds in the U.S. that are vegetarians.  They feed only on seeds and very seldom take small insects – only by accident it seems.  For those of us who live the in the Valley of the Sun, putting out a thistle seed feeder during the winter will attract Lesser Goldfinches as they migrate South to escape the cold weather up North.  Who knows, they may even be the same birds that are your summer neighbors in Munds Park.

If in Munds Park you live a bit away from the forest and pines and instead have a home with a small open area or grassy yard nearby, you could be lucky enough to attract the beautiful Western Bluebird.  With their blue backs and rusty breasts, Western Bluebirds can be seen in hot pursuit of insects, but they will also frequent your bird feeder if you offer them mealworms.  Bluebirds are cavity nesters and will use a nest box if built to the right dimensions, which includes an entry hole that is 1 and ½ inches in diameter.  If you are a golfer, the nest boxes you see on Pinewood Country Club are for Bluebirds.   

 The fourth and last bird I’ll discuss here is the Mountain Chickadee, a bird of the trees that is a little larger than the Lesser Goldfinch and much smaller than an American Robin.  Mountain Chickadees are black/white/gray, and you can see them clinging upside down in the trees and searching through the pinecones and bark for insects.  The Mountain Chickadee is easily identified by its song, which is a “Chic-a-dee-dee” call.  When Mountain Chickadees come to my seed feeder, they will stay up to a half of a minute, but during that time, they rapidly peck at the seeds, throwing the millet into the tray and off to the ground, which delights the doves feeding on the ground below, and looking for a sunflower seed.  The Chickadees prefer sunflower seeds, so I’m rethinking my bird food buying strategy and next time will get sunflowers seeds only.  These birds, like the Western Bluebird, are cavity nesters and will use the right nest box, one with a hole that is one and one-eighth inches across.  They can breed up to two times per year, so if you have a nest box, you might see them active in it later in the summer when you would think the time for hatching baby birds should have already passed.  I had a family of Chickadees in one of my nest boxes last year, and it was a delightful surprise to see it used mid-summer.

In the next article I will present a few more birds that you should be able to easily see in Munds Park.  If you have any questions or stories you would like to share about Munds Park birds, feel free to send them to me at, and I’ll try to include them in a final article before fall migration.

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