Posts Tagged ‘Wildlife’

Quite often after a snowfall in January or February it will get quite cold for a while here in New Hampshire when the storm moves out over the Atlantic and pulls the polar express in behind it. The coldest I’ve ever seen it is 35 below zero (F) and it has only gone that low twice in the 50+ years that I’ve been around to witness it. But, it’s not supposed to get anywhere near that this week. We are supposed to have relatively balmy temps, with highs in the 30s during the day and above zero at night. There is no talk of a January thaw just yet.

1. Snowy River

The river is just starting to ice up. Areas where the current runs slow along its banks get icy first and then the ice slowly grows in towards the middle. When I was a young boy I was walking on the ice of this river one day and all of the sudden it started cracking. It was so loud, echoing off the frozen river banks, that it sounded like gun shots as I ran and dove onto the bank. That adventure cured my curiosity about frozen rivers and I have never walked on one since.

2. Ice Covered Shrub

Ice forms on everything near the river’s edge.  It weighs down young shrubs and sometimes breaks their stems.

3. Icy Twigs

And sometimes they just wear ice collars.

4. Ice Covered Stones

Even the stones are coated in ice.

5. Window Frost

One night when the temperature dropped to below zero Jack Frost paid a visit and drew patterns on my windows. The frost edges looked like feathers, or ferns. Oddly enough these coldest temperatures happened on the night before the earth passed closest to the sun, January 2nd.

6. Window Frost

The different shapes that frost can grow into seem endless.

7. Pinecone in the Snow

Did you ever wonder which end of a pine cone hit the ground first after it fell? Well, now you know.

8. Shepherds Purse Seed Head

This Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) seed head was the only thing poking up out of a large expanse of white. 

9. Snowy Fungi

These bracket fungi must have been frozen solid. 

10. Vernal Pool

The vernal pools in the forest are also beginning to freeze. A vernal pool is temporary and does not hold water year around. “Vernal” means “occurring in spring,” and these small pools are usually at their maximum depth in the spring due to snow melt and runoff. In the hot, dry days of June, July and August they will disappear completely. Frogs, toads, salamanders, insects and many plants rely on these pools. 

11. Tree Frog on Snow

I wasn’t expecting to see this poor tree frog on top of the snow. I followed his short trail to find that it began in the middle of nowhere, so he either dug his way up from the soil to the snow’s surface or fell out of a tree. I’ve always heard that they burrow into mud for the winter but he seemed to have a broken leg, and that got me wondering if he had fallen out of a tree. Other than wishing him well, there was little I could think of to do for him.

12. Oak Galls

The wasps inside these oak galls will fare much better than the tree frog, I’m sure. They will emerge in spring when it is warm and the snow has melted.

If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking.  Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk. ~Raymond Inmon

Thanks for stopping in. I hope you see plenty of bright sunshine and bearable temperatures, no matter where you live.



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Last Saturday we had a little snowfall but then we had temperatures soar into the 60s, so it didn’t last long.

1. Snow Covered Trail

This is what the trails looked like Saturday Morning. There was probably about an inch and a half or maybe two inches in places-just barely enough to cover the ground.

2. Snow Covered Twig

Under the hemlock trees there was just a light dusting.

3. Squirrel Tracks

A squirrel had passed this way.

4. Ice on Pond

5. Snowy Seed Head


6. Snowy Evergreen Christmas Fern

Evergreen Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) lived up to their name. Heavier snow will bury them but they will stay green.

7. Foggy Pond

By Sunday afternoon it was 45 degrees and the melting pond ice was making fog.

8. Mallards

Mallards enjoyed the open water. ..

9. Trail After Snow Meltand the trails were snow free once again. Last year they looked like this all winter long due to a severe lack of snow.

The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?
~J. B. Priestley

Thanks for stopping in.

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I’m talking about turkey tail mushrooms, of course. The scientific name of these mushrooms is Trametes versicolor and they are a type of polypore mushroom. They are also said to be the most common mushroom in North American woods. They are found mostly on rotting hardwood logs, but I’ve also found them on hemlock stumps.                       

There are also false turkey tail mushrooms. The easiest way to tell if a mushroom is a turkey tail is to look at the underside, which should be creamy white and have pores. If it has gills then it isn’t a true turkey tail.

A true turkey tail also has strongly contrasting zones of color. In fact, versicolor means “having many colors.” (Trametes means “one who is thin.”) If a mushroom lacks these contrasting zones of color or has more subtle shades then it is probably Trametes pubescens (above) or another look alike rather than Trametes versicolor.Nobody seems to know what causes the different colors in turkey tails-or at least, if they do they aren’t talking because I’ve been searching for the answer to that question for a long time. I wonder if the weather has anything to do with color variation. Last year I was finding many that were colored blue or purple and this year I’m seeing a lot of browns, pinks, and oranges. 

Turkey tail fungi cause white rot in trees, and when they grow in the wound of a living tree it means it isn’t long for this world. White rot occurs when fungi eat the brown ligin of plant cells and leave behind the white cellulose. The fungi are also saprophytic, which means that they produce enzymes which decompose dead matter.

Oops-how did he get in here? Trametes versicolor isn’t all bad though; in China, Japan, and parts of Europe compounds extracted from these fungi are being used to treat certain types of cancer. Here in the U.S., fueled by grants from the National Institute of Health, scientists are researching its usefulness in breast and bone cancer therapy.Squirrels, beetles, turtles and other critters eat turkey tails. Fungus gnats and the horned fungus beetle use them for shelter. They are very tough so even though they aren’t considered poisonous, they aren’t very appealing to humans. The part of the turkey tail fungus that we see can be compared to the cap and stem on a traditional mushroom-it is the fruiting body that releases the spores so more generations can follow.

What I like most about turkeys tails are the colors and the fact that they appear from May to December. They add a lot of color to the otherwise black, white, and brown winter landscape. This time of year, when the leaves have all fallen, is the easiest time to find them. I’d be willing to bet that you have some growing very near to where you are because they’ve been found in nearly every state in the country. What better way to walk off that big thanksgiving meal than hiking through the woods, looking for turkey tails? That’s where I’ll be.

In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught ~ Baba Dioum

Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone. Thanks for stopping by.

The photo of the Tom Turkey is from Wikipedia.


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This is another post full of all of those pictures that don’t seem to fit in other posts.

 Well, leave it to beavers. I found a spot where they had dammed up a small stream so close to the road that the road was in danger of flooding. The town will destroy the dam and let the water drain, and then the beavers will dam it back up. This goes on a lot around here and if the beavers persist they will eventually be trapped and relocated.

Beavers can sense when the water level is dropping, even from inside their lodge.

This flock of turkeys wasn’t much better behaved-they were scratching up a golf course.

I tried to puff one of these puff balls but instead of puffing it dribbled a pinkish brown liquid.  That’s because it was a wolf’s milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum) and not a puffball.

Eastern larch trees, also called tamarack larch or just tamarack, (Larix laricina) turn brilliant golden yellow in the fall and are one of the few conifers that shed their needles in winter. This tree, for some reason, decided to turn orange this year, which is something I’ve never seen. It could be a Japanese or European larch, which I’ve heard sometimes turn yellow-orange. They also have longer needles and larger cones than our native trees.

I wanted to get as close as I could to these common burdock (Arctium minus) seed heads so we could see what made them stick to everything so readily. As the photo shows, each bract is barbed at the tip like a fish hook. This plant is very dangerous to small birds like goldfinches and hummingbirds that can get caught in its burr clusters. If they can’t break free they will die of starvation. This grasshopper sat in the sun on a post and let me click away as much as I wanted. I thought he might yawn from boredom.

Thousands of virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) seed heads can be seen on vines draped over trees and shrubs along roadsides. I like the way they resemble feathers.

Pinesap plants (Hypopitys hypopitys) have also gone to seed. You can tell that they’re pinesaps and not Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) by the multiple spent flowers along the stem.  Indian pipes have a single flower at the end of a stalk. Pinesaps are also yellowish to reddish and Indian pipes are usually white. Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) berries are ripe when the orange outer husks open to reveal the dark red berry. Oriental bittersweet is a very invasive vine that smothers shrubs and chokes out trees. One way to tell it from the much less invasive American bittersweet is by the berry cluster locations. American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) fruits at the tips of its stems and oriental bittersweet fruits all along the stem.

Even though it is also very invasive-so much so that it is now banned from being sold-it’s hard to think of anything quite as beautiful as a grove of burning bush (Euonymus alatus) in the fall woods. This shrub is also called winged euonymus. 

I wondered who had been eating all the mushrooms in the forest before I could get pictures of them, and now I know. I’m surprised that this gray squirrel was snacking while sitting on the ground though, because I usually find mushroom stems and pieces up on logs or flat stones that have been used as tables. 

This part of New Hampshire has an abundant black bear population and I’ve even had them in my yard a few times. I’ve been wondering when I would meet up with one in the woods though, and have been hoping that he or she will have read the same literature that I have and will magically run away when I clap my hands and yell “Hey Bear!!”  Of course, that plan hinges on whether I can still speak and move when we meet. Anyhow, this cave looked like a likely place for a bear to hang out, but I didn’t see one in or around it. 

Every time I see this black cormorant the sun is behind him and he is too far away for a flash to have any effect. This makes for some very challenging photography and I’m beginning to wonder if this bird isn’t smart enough to want it that way. He seems to be getting used to people though, and let me walk right out into the open on shore to get his picture. I’ve read that this spread wing posture is common among these birds but this was the first time I saw him do it. Black cormorants are quite large with wingspans of 5 or 6 feet.

The farther one gets into the wilderness, the greater is the attraction of its lonely freedom~ Theodore Roosevelt

Special note: I have finally gotten around to updating my favorite links, found on the far right side of this page. The blog names that I’ve added are indeed favorites and I read each one daily. If you would like to learn more about nature in other parts of the country and the world, I hope you’ll take a look at each one.

Thanks for stopping by.


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Happy first day of summer! Our local weather forecast calls for temperatures in the md 90s with high humidity, so I’ll be staying in the shadier parts of the forest. What follows are a few things that can be found there. This eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) looked as if something had been taking bites out of its trailing wing edges. It was resting in the shade on a false Solomon’s seal plant and didn’t bat a wing while I was taking pictures. Do birds chase butterflies and take bites out of their wings? I thought these common split gill (Schizophyllum commune) mushrooms were bracket fungi because, even though they are one of the most common mushrooms, I hadn’t ever seen them. They are found on every continent except Antarctica and don’t grow there only because there is no wood for them to live on. Though they look like a bracket fungus they are mushrooms with torn and serrated gill-like folds that are split lengthwise. These mushrooms dry out and re-hydrate many times throughout the season and this splits the gill-like folds, giving them their common name. These ones looked like fuzzy scallop shells. I did see bracket fungi though. These turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) were surrounded by moss. I had to wonder if the moss was winning the battle. This eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta picta) was in the middle of the path I was on, quite far from water. He (she?) looked like he couldn’t decide whether to go into or come out of his shell.  After a few pictures I left him just the way I found him, thinking he would reach a decision quicker if I wasn’t there watching him. He was about the size of a soccer ball. I saw plenty of little brown mushrooms.  Even mushroom experts have trouble identifying these mushrooms and recommend that mushroom hunters stay away from any that are small to medium size and are brown, grayish brown or brownish yellow.  The deadly skullcap (Galerina autumnalis) is a little brown mushroom, and it wouldn’t be a good day if it were accidentally eaten. Many cherry trees have nipple or pouch gall on their leaves this year. These are small finger like nubs on the leaf surface caused by tiny eriophyid mites laying eggs on the leaf.  The mites secrete a chemical substance that causes the leaf to expand over their eggs. When the eggs hatch the baby mites feed inside the finger shaped gall. The galls caused by these mites don’t hurt the trees and are seen as a natural curiosity. Over time the galls turn from green to red and when the leaves drop in the fall the galls drop with them. Thorns on a native black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) tree. These are nowhere near as dangerous looking as the thorns on a honey locust tree, but I still wouldn’t want to accidentally run into them.  Farmers have used black locust for fence posts for hundreds of years because it is dense, hard, and rot resistant. It is said to last over 100 years in the soil. Black locust is in the pea family and is considered toxic. This tree was growing at the edge of the forest. Several together would make an impenetrable thicket. Native Deer Tongue Grass (Panicum clandestinum or Dichanthelium clandestinum) seems to be thriving this year.  I like the way the leaves look as if they have been pierced by the stem. When they do this it is called clasping the stem. Many plants-the common fleabane for example-do this. This grass prefers moist soil and plenty of sun. Deer Tongue Grass is just starting to flower. Native Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina ) is another plant that likes moist soil and full sun and I usually find it growing near ponds and streams. It is also called bottlebrush sedge. The green prickly looking flowers are called spikelets. Both male and female flowers are on each plant. Waterfowl, game birds and songbirds feed on sedges seeds. The Sedge Wren builds its nest and hunts for insects in wetlands that are dominated by sedges. The color of these new maple leaves was beautiful enough to deserve a photo, I thought. It is amazing how many plants have new leaves that start out red or maroon before turning green. Since chlorophyll is what makes leave green, this tells me that the emerging foliage doesn’t have much of it. The pussytoes (Antennaria) in my yard have all gone to seed. The yellow hawkweed (Hieracium caespitosum) is also going to seed. Each plant can produce as many as 500 seeds in a single flower head. This plant is native to Europe and is considered a noxious weed.Way down at the bottom of the spathe, or pulpit, at the base of the spadix called Jack, the fruits of Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum ) have been forming. Soon these immature green berries will begin to swell and will turn bright red. The seeds in the berries are more often than not infertile. Those in the photo are at a stage that most people never see because the wilted spadix is usually covering the immature fruit. I peeled parts of it away to get this picture. Doing so won’t harm the plant. These tiny green flowers of the wild grape (Vitis species) don’t look like much but they are very fragrant. I smelled these long before I saw them and followed their fragrance to the vine. The flowers are so small that I can’t imagine what insect pollinates them.

In the woods we return to reason and faith~ Ralph Waldo Emerson  

I hope you enjoyed seeing what the woods here in New Hampshire have to offer. Thanks for stopping in.


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Last Monday morning I watched as the rising sun touched a few pieces of ice covered stove wood.

When the sunlight fell on the logs and was magnified by the clear ice, they blazed with flameless fire. 

But none of that now-by Friday the early morning sky looked like milk, and had no fire.

 Last weekend, I admired the petals of Vernal Witch Hazel fluttering in the breeze.

Not this weekend. Witch Hazel petals will no doubt stay tucked away until another warm, sunny day.

For nearly all of this winter animals walked over the sandy river banks at night. 

 Now they seek out patches of dry ground under spruces. 

Nature has toyed with us this year, but spring has started and it isn’t likely to stop now.

This was taken a week or so ago, so It shouldn’t be too long before the daffodils are blooming.

I hope all of you and yours are well after the recent severe weather outbreaks. Thanks for visiting.

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Note: This is part four of the story of a recent visit to Ashuelot Park in Keene, New Hampshire.

Every time I step into the woods I see strange things that boggle the mind and can’t be satisfactorily explained. (At least by me) My recent trip to Ashuelot Park proved this once again. Below are a few examples of what I think are fairly unusual sights.

 These two shrubs-one on the left and another on the right-have somehow become woven together at their tops and, judging by the size of the branches, have been growing this way for quite some time.  How this could have happened I’m not sure, because they grew about 4 or 5 feet apart. This has been done purposely in gardens since medieval times and is called pleaching. One reason trees are pleached is to create a living arbor to shade paths. Over time the trees often graft themselves together and grow as one. I can’t recall ever hearing of this happening naturally. These were well off the beaten path, but I suppose someone could have done this in the past.

This has to be one of the strangest things I’ve seen. Beavers have been gnawing at this cherry tree for so long that the wound is starting to heal over at the top. They keep the wound fresh but it isn’t deep and they haven’t girdled the tree to kill it, so they obviously have no intention of cutting it down. But why do they gnaw on it? Is it a tooth sharpening station? Do they come just to nibble off a piece of sweet cherry, as we would chew a stick of gum?

 I think it’s probably accurate to say that I’ve seen tens of thousands of maple trees in my lifetime, but I can’t remember ever seeing one with circular patterns like these in its bark. I can’t even guess what would cause this, or what use they are to the tree. If you know what causes this, I’d love to talk to you.

The maple in the previous photo may have circles in its bark, but at least it still has its bark. This oak had its bark slide right off and tangle around itself. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this happen either.

Witch’s broom isn’t that strange, but in my experience it is rare, or certainly uncommon on white pine (Pinus strobus) in this area. The best description I’ve seen of witch’s broom is “a dense mass of shoots growing from a single point, with the resulting structure resembling a broom or a bird’s nest.” The deformity has many different causes, including bud damage, infection, and parasites such as mistletoe. I had to boost the contrast a bit on this one so the broom would stand out from the background.

This is the final entry for the long walk that I recently took in a place that I spent a considerable amount of time in as a boy. I hope you enjoyed seeing it as much as I enjoyed showing it to you, even though the sun was shining a bit too brightly for the best photography. If you ever find yourself in Keene, New Hampshire, please stop in and see it for yourself.  Whether you have a few minutes or a full day, you’ll surely see something interesting.

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Note: This is part three of the story of a recent visit to Ashuelot Park in Keene, New Hampshire.

I can’t imagine what this town would be like without the Ashuelot flowing through it. So much of the wildlife seen in the area is here because of the river. 

There was plenty of evidence that woodpeckers live here.  This hole was about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter and from what I’ve read, that means it was probably made by a downy, hairy, or red headed woodpecker.

This hole was much larger and rectangular, so it was probably originally made by a pileated woodpecker, although other pileated woodpecker holes I’ve seen have more rounded corners than what are seen here.  Since there were pieces of gray fur inside, it is most likely being used by another bird or animal now. Woodpeckers make new holes each year and many other birds and animals use the abandoned holes for nesting sites.

Here are the tell tale signs of a sapsucker, which is in the woodpecker family. The horizontal rows of holes cause “phloem” sap to dam up and accumulate in the plant tissue just above the wounds. The bird enlarges the holes over the course of several days and then adds another row above the first, eventually resulting in square or rectangular patterns of many holes. Sapsuckers have a kind of brushy tongue that they lick up the sap with.  The kind of sap that we tap maple trees for is “xylem” sap, which is much thinner and less sweet than phloem sap. Because phloem sap is so much thicker and stickier than the watery xylem sap that we make maple syrup from, scientists can’t figure out how these birds get it to flow so freely. Insects, bats, other birds, and many animals also drink sap from these holes.

You won’t find any woodpecker holes in this tree!  This is the easily recognizable undulating form of American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), also called “muscle wood” for obvious reasons. The wood of this tree is very heavy, dense and hard, and though some call it “iron wood,” that isn’t much help with identification because several other species are called the same thing. Blue Beech is another common name because the bark resembles that of the beech.  American hornbeam is a smallish understory tree that is usually found on flood plains and other areas that may be wet for part of the year.  It’s hard to find one of any great size because they have a short lifespan.

Beavers wouldn’t be gnawing on the tough wood of American hornbeam, but they didn’t have any trouble with this cherry. The blackening and fungal growth at the top of the stump shows that they took this tree down many years ago. It must be a popular spot with beavers though, because they are still cutting the new shoots at the base.

 Fresh water mussels are abundant in the river and make good snacks for raccoons, muskrats and other animals. Locally there is a recovery plan in place to save the dwarf wedge mussel (Alasmidonta heterodon ) which, though abundant 100 years ago, is now known in only 12 locations in New England. Far more common is the eastern elliptio, the shell of which I think appears in the above photo. Mussels are very important because they filter and clean the water.

I was hoping I’d also be able to show some signs of the black bear, deer, and moose that are seen in this area, but they haven’t left any calling cards lately, apparently.  I’ll keep my eyes open.

The fourth and final part of this walk in the park will be along shortly. Thanks for stopping by.

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I walk, talk, think, dream, and live gardening and sometimes I get tired of writing about it, so I decided to take a little break and wander through my childhood, just for fun. Thanks for stopping by.

I watched gray squirrels playing recently and wished I had some in my yard, but we have a lot of cats in the neighborhood and the two just don’t mix.

I’ve always liked squirrels-probably because when I was a boy there was a very tame gray squirrel in my neighborhood who would take a peanut from your teeth if you lay very still. If you were real lucky he’d even sit on your chest and roll the peanut in his paws for a minute or two. Of course, you couldn’t breathe much or you’d scare him away, so you were always kind of happy when he finally ran off with the peanut in his cheek.

When I was in fifth grade I found a squirrel frozen in a snow bank on my way to school one morning.  I don’t know how he got there, but he was board stiff and splayed out almost as flat as Popeye was after being run over by a steam roller.

I had a teacher at the time who fancied herself a frontier woman and told us stories about frontier life. She also said she was a taxidermist and had stuffed all kinds of animals, so I brought my frozen squirrel to her.  After some prodding from the entire class, she said she would stuff it for me.

 I waited several weeks, all the while imagining my squirrel sitting on a shelf in my room and wondering if I’d be able to put a peanut in his paws so he’d look alive. Meanwhile the teacher told us how the Indians tanned hides and how my squirrel probably would have been a hat on the frontier. We even learned a new word: Pliable.

Finally she brought my squirrel back in a paper bag, but when I pulled him out he looked worse than he had when he went in! Not only was he still all splayed out but was almost as flat, and had a line of thread up his stomach.  His body was all lumpy like he was full of walnuts, but worst of all was the white cottony stuff where his eyes should have been. He was a zombie squirrel!

Girls squealed and boys turned away; we sure didn’t want anything to do with a squirrel that looked like that! The teacher told us she didn’t have any glass squirrel eyes, but too late-we were just plain traumatized. Gosh, didn’t she even know what a squirrel looked like?

We found out that our teacher was no taxidermist that morning and we were pretty sure that she wasn’t any old frontier woman either. We were glad we’d be moving on to the sixth grade soon, let me tell you.

As I write this I realize that maybe I’m better off not having squirrels in my yard-I’m lucky to still have lips. I’m also surprised that I never caught rabies or the mange. What was I thinking?


                                  Squirrel Photo © 2011 by Keven Law

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It’s probably fair to say that when most New Englanders think of Deerfield, Massachusetts they think of Historic Deerfield or the scented candles at Yankee Candle. Though each of these certainly makes a trip to Deerfield worthwhile, there is something else in Deerfield that many have never heard of, and that is the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory and Gardens.

Magic Wings should be a must see, especially for parents of children who are already bored even though school let out just two weeks ago. The main attraction is of course, the butterflies. Four thousand of them, both native and tropical, fly freely in an eight thousand square foot conservatory. If you stand very still butterflies may land on your shoulder, and that should delight any child. The conservatory also houses plants that attract butterflies, a pond full of Japanese Koi, and even a waterfall.

Magic Wings also has a restaurant, outdoor gardens where plants that attract butterflies grow, a picnic area, and a gift shop. A seasonal garden shop sells annuals and perennials that attract butterflies, butterfly feeders, and garden related gifts. The site can be used for weddings, children’s birthday parties, and meetings, with advance notice. To visit their website and learn more about this fascinating place, just click here.

 All butterfly photos were taken by my daughter Amanda on her trip to Magic Wings.

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