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Archive for April, 2013

Is it just me, or does this image look like it came from a low budget science fiction movie, with a strange-looking alien creature hovering over a Martian landscape?

I was chasing dragonflies again this past weekend, trying to capture images of them in flight, and ended up with this image of a female Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia). It’s pretty tough to try to track these flying insects with a hand-held telephoto zoom lens extended to almost 400mm. My autofocus seemed too slow and I adapted a technique of trying to focus manually, while trying to keep the lens steady. I can’t tell for sure if this image was auto-focused or was manually focused.

Female Common Whitetail dragonflies do not have a white tail and in many ways that makes them a little easier to expose correctly. The wings are blurred, but you can still see the brown markings that identify this as a female, and not an immature male.

Last summer I was content to get a shot of a dragonfly when it was stationary, but this summer I am going to work hard to capture some more images of dragonflies in flight.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I haven’t seen many hawks in the last month or two, so I was delighted when I spotted this Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) circling in the distance this past weekend.

Most of the hawks that I had previously seen at my local marsh have been Red-shouldered Hawks, but I am pretty sure this one is a Red-tailed. The hawk never came close enough for me to get a really good shot, but I am content that I was able to get some shots in which the hawk is recognizable as more than an indistinct blob in the distance. Several of the shots I am posting look almost like they have a rock formation in the background—it was only, however, a dead tree.

These images are aspirational ones for me. They represent the kind of photographs that I am working to be able to produce in the future with greater sharpness and more pixels (I had to do a lot of cropping). They are a step on the path of my journey into photography.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Here’s a photo of the Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) that I took today just prior to the confrontation that I featured in my previous blog entry. The sky was almost completely white, because the day was heavily overcast, and it totally disappeared when I was adjusting the RAW image.

This was one of the first times that I used flash to add a little light and bring out the colores and it seems to have worked out pretty well. Some of the more dedicated bird photographers that I see use a Fresnel lens attachment for their external flash units to give more reach to the flash—I am not sure that I am ready to go that far yet.

I managed to get a pretty good amount of detail in this shot, even capturing some of the raindrops on the swallow’s wing.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I was focusing my camera on a Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) perched on a branch, when out of nowhere another Barn Swallow appeared and started screeching as it hovered in midair. Fortunately I had enough presence of mind to press the shutter release.

It was raining most of the day and I was shooting one-handed under an umbrella much of the time. For this shot, I decided to use the built-in flash on my camera to add a little additional light. The reflections in the screeching bird’s eyes add to its almost maniacal look.

The bird on the branch was totally impassive. It turned its head toward the hovering bird, but did not appear to react in any other way.

The overall feel of the image is almost like a cartoon.  I really like the way it came out (and recognize that it was mostly luck and fortunate timing).

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I was thrilled this past Saturday when I caught sight of this Green Heron (Butorides virescens), because green herons have only recently returned to the area after spending their winter in warmer locations.

The lighting situation, however, was really problematic. There was beautiful dappled sunlight in the background, but the heron was mostly in heavy shade and his back was illuminated with harsh sunlight. I played around with a number of different settings and this was one of the better images.  I still had to make some adjustments in post-processing to pull some of the details out of the shadows, which made the final image a bit grainy.

I really like the Green Heron’s pose, as he looks off into the distance. I don’t think that he was actively fishing, but was merely relaxing in the shade of the tree.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The Great Blue Heron was too far away for me to capture many details, but the light early yesterday morning was especially beautiful, so I decided to pull back and try to capture the landscape, something that I don’t do very often.

I love the rich bands of color that I managed to capture in this shot and the gorgeous reflections in the water at my local marshland park. The red color, I believe, is from buds that were stripped from the trees by winds and rain this past week.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Snake eyes are often cold and menacing, but somehow this snake that I encountered yesterday seems to have warm brown eyes that look almost like he is smiling.

This snake, which I think is a Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis), was curled up in some underbrush near the edge of the marsh. It was a real challenge getting a clear view of his head, the more so because I was using my 135-400mm lens that has a minimum focusing distance of almost seven feet (two meters).

For this shot, I used my tripod so that I could get an exposure of 1/30 second at f/9, with the lens zoomed out to about 350mm. I like the fact that I was able to capture some of the beautiful texture of the scales on his skin. You can easily see how I had to look for little sight windows through the brush, which is mostly blurred and hopefully is not too distracting. Finally, I am happy that I managed to capture some of the sinuous curves that help to guide the viewer’s eye to the snake’s head.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Although most people probably associate the descriptor “whitetail” with deer, it’s also part of the name of this dragonfly that I photographed yesterday, an immature male Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia).

I remember seeing the adult male Whitetail a lot last summer, and its body is a chalky white in color, as its name suggests. Males start out looking a lot like the female, which has a brown body with some white or yellow markings, according to Bugguide. However, it’s relatively easy to tell the immature males from the females, because their wing patterns are different. Males have wider bands of brown and clear wingtips (no, they are not wearing dress shoes—I am talking about the literal tips of the wings).

I am sure that I’ll get lots more photos of Common Whitetail dragonflies this summer, including some in much better light, but it was nice to see them appearing already in April.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It’s hard to imagine anything cuter than this tiny little Canada Goose that climbed into the water at my local marsh for a swim along with his siblings and his parents. They were close enough to me that I was able to frame the shot pretty much like you see it.

I really like the expression of the gosling as he seemed to turn his head to look at me and also like the contrast between the bright colors of the gosling and the more muted tones of the full-grown geese.

I just missed the drop of 15 Hooded Merganser ducklings from the nesting box this morning by about twenty minutes. Hopefully I will have the chance to celebrate more new lives like this little goose in the coming weeks.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Male Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) are loud and visible almost all of the time, but this one blackbird seemed even more determined than usual to pose for me. It was almost as though he was an experienced model, changing poses and holding them for a few seconds to allow me to get the shot before striking a new pose.

I wonder if he could have his own fashion show. Of course, we might have to alter the terminology a bit—I am not sure he would be keen to strut his stuff on something called a “catwalk.”

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Here are a few more shots from my last night in Vienna. The first three are of a portion of the Hofburg Palace. The last one is of St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom). I can’t recall the name of the church in the penultimate photo.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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On my last full day in Vienna (at least for this trip), I decided to take some photos of the city as the sun started to set.

This is a shot of the Rathaus (Vienna City Hall), just after they turned on the lights to illuminate the building. I did not have a tripod with me, so I braced on or against various objects in an effort to steady myself. I may post a few more night shots of Vienna later (if I am not too sleepy or wake up really early), but thought I’d share this one right now.

My trip to Vienna was brief, but enjoyable. I got a lot accomplished work-wise, but had enough free time to really enjoy some amazing spring weather.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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When you travel to a well-known location, do you feel compelled to take some touristy photos of the famous landmarks? I confess that I almost always feel a need to take at least a few shots of the iconic sights.

In Vienna, one of the most photographed monuments is the gold-plated bronze statue of Johann Strauss II in the City Park (Stadt Park). Strauss was an Austrian composer in the 19th century and is probably best known for popularizing waltzes. The statue itself was unveiled to the public in 1921 and was covered in gold in 1991, replacing the gold that had been removed in 1935.

One of the more interesting things about the statue is that people are permitted to climb right up next to the statue to have their picture taken. It was a lot of fun to watch the various poses that people would assume, including one lady who posed while trying to hold upright a large pitbull-type dog.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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At this time of the year the sun rises pretty early in Vienna, Austria, but I was able to capture a few shots this morning from my hotel window. In the distance you can see one of the spires of St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom), one of the major landmarks of the city.

My little Canon A620 seems to have a maximum shutter duration of one second, so I had to play around a little with aperture and f-stop to try to get a decent exposure. I used a little tripod on the window sill to steady the camera for these shots.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Walking through some of the parks here in Vienna, Austria, I couldn’t help but notice that the crows here are not at all the same as the crows in my part of the United States.

I am here in Vienna for work for a few days and have spent my free time walking through the parks, checking out the birds and plants.  Most of the birds that I see are pigeons, but I was really struck by the large black-and-white crows that periodically fly onto the scene.

A little research on the internet reveals that these are Hooded Crows (Corvus cornix), and not the  all-black American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) that I am used to seeing.

The only camera that I have with me is my trusty Canon A620 point-and-shoot. It is compact, but its 4x zoom makes it less than ideal for capturing birds. However, several crows were relatively cooperative yesterday and let me get close enough to get these shots.

I’ll probably post a few photos of buildings in the next day or two, but wanted to let folks know that I am still drawn to seek out nature, even in the midst of a big city.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The soggy, overcast weather this past Friday kept people away from my local marshland park and allowed me to get these shots of a Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca).

I don’t normally see these birds and if I do, they are almost always beyond the range of my lens. This day, however, there were a couple of yellowlegs and another smaller shorebird, which I was told was a Solitary Sandpiper, that moved back and forth in the water, remaining within range for quite some time.

The lighting was a little  tricky for me, with the sky almost white most of the time, though sometimes the sun would peek out from behind all of the clouds. Most of the shots were a little underexposed, but I was able to correct them with a few little tweaks in post-production. I especially like the lighting in the first photo, in which the water has some color to it.

I am happy, though, that I was able to get some pretty clear shots of this beautiful bird, thanks in part to some careful focusing and the use of a tripod. (If you want to see another shot of the yellowlegs, checkout my earlier posting.)

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I continue my efforts to capture photos of herons and egrets in flight whenever I can and here are a couple of shots from this past weekend of a flying egret.

In theory, it should be easy to photograph these birds—they are large and fly slowly—but the changing backgrounds and direction of flight has often made it tough to get the proper exposure and focus.

The egrets were gone all winter, but they are back now. I am hoping that I will continue to see them often enough to be able to get some better photos of them (or at least to try).

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Here is a shot of the beautiful Creeping Phlox (Phlox stolonifera) that covered one whole area of the rock garden at one of the local gardens that I like to visit.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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After first getting introduced to these pretty little flowers last spring, the Columbine (genus Aquilegia) rapidly became one of my favorites. They come in a lot of different colors, although the only ones blooming in the county-run garden that I visited this weekend were red-and-yellow ones and white ones.

Normally it’s not that difficult to get decent shots of these flowers, but the day was windy and that made it tough to control the depth of field (which normally requires a slower shutter speed) and stop the movement caused by the wind.

The pretty pink in the background of the final photo came from a patch of phlox that blanked a large area of a rock garden. I think I got some pretty good  photos of the phlox, so you may see them in another posting later.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Yesterday on a heavily overcast day, a few shorebirds were closer to the shore than usual at the pond area of my local marsh, including this one, which I was told is a Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca). As I looked through my bird identification book, I realize that identification of shorebirds is pretty difficult, given that many of them look almost the same, so I can’t guarantee that my identification is accurate.

I am working on a few more images of the yellowlegs, but thought that I would share this one initially, because I was able to capture the bird as it was reaching into the water. The light was not bright, but there was enough of if to produce a beautiful reflection in the water as the bird reached below this surface with its bill.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I was really surprised today when I saw the the familiar shape and color of a female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus). Somehow I had expected to see them much later in the spring.

Normally I like to try to get photos of these beautiful butterflies perched on colorful flowers, but there are no colorful flowers yet in the marsh. Unfortunately, the butterfly that I was able to photograph decided to perch on the decomposing carcass of a snapping turtle (as you can see in the first photo). Most of my other shots were at least partially obscured by the grass.

Gradually the cast of characters is coming together that will probably play leading  roles in my blog postings in the upcoming months, the birds and beasts, and the reptiles and amphibians, not to mention the plants and flowers. I can hardly wait.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Last weekend I kept seeing snapping turtles in the water with their shells at an angle to the surface. Initially I couldn’t figure out what was going on, until a helpful fellow photographer explained that the turtles were mating.

Mating? That sort of made sense, but I was a little confused, because in each case I could see only a single turtle. Doesn’t it take two to tango? I kept watching and eventually I was able to see that there were two turtles, but one of them was being held underwater most of the time. It seemed pretty violent. On the positive side, it seems that the female did not bite off the male’s head in the process, as praying mantises are said to do while mating.

As I look the photos below, I have trouble identifying body parts and determining which ones belong to which turtle. I don’t understand the anatomy of the Eastern Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina serpentina) and will leave that to the experts.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I like backlighting a lot, especially when the light shines through and illuminates beautiful colors, like those of this tulip in a neighbor’s garden.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The last month or so I have been keeping an eye on a couple of female Hooded Merganser ducks that are using a nesting box at my local marshland park. One of my fellow photographers has already posted a photo of one of them, surrounded by a dozen or so cute little ducklings, so I may have missed one of the moments that I was hoping to catch.

A little earlier this month, though, I had a special moment with one of them, when I arrived at the park early in the morning, just after the sun had risen. The small female duck was more out in the open than usual, though she was still pretty far away. Initially she seemed to be taking a bath, as she stuck her head under water and would shake a little. Eventually she climbed out of the water onto a log and began to groom herself.

The light at that moment from the back and the side made the spiky reddish-blond hair on her head glow and also created a nice reflection in the water. She seemed unhurried and unafraid as she basked in the beautiful early morning light.

For at least a moment, the two of us were freed from the cares of our everyday lives.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The warmer weather seems to have brought out all of the critters in my marshland park, including what I think is a Common Five-Lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus). I don’t often see lizards around here, so I was particularly happy when this one slowly crawled down a tree, permitting me to get this shot.

I wonder why he was sticking out his tongue at me.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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An insect on the edge of a leaf is a perfect candidate for a macro shot and when I saw this one from a distance in my neighbor’s garden, I got to work without a clue about its identity.

When I looked at the photos initially, I thought I had captured images of a Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus), because of its bright red body and curved, segmented antennae. (I have a self-identified obsession with this insect that I discussed in a blog posting last year.) However, there were a few problems with that identification. This beetle seemed smaller; it was on a plant that was definitely not a milkweed plant; and it seemed too early to be seeing a milkweed beetle. My identification was further complicated by the fact that I never did see the back of the beetle.

So what insect did I photograph? I have been going over photos at bugguide.net, one of my favorite sources and wonder if this might be a Lily Leaf Beetle (Lilioceris lilii). Tentatively, though I like the name that I invented for this post, Red Spring Beetle.

I may not be sure about the identification of this insect, but I know that I like the photos that I managed to get, especially the first one. I captured a pretty good amount of detail and I like the way that he posed, looking directly at me.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I almost always take photos of nature and wildlife, but every now and then a man-made object will catch my eye, like this rusty, industrial-looking clamp.

I was visiting a friend as she was cleaning up her back yard, preparing for the flowers that will soon be blooming there, when I caught sight of  clamp. It was sitting on a rough-sawn stump and, as she told me, is used to attach a plant stand to another object.

The shape reminds me of a question mark, an industrial question mark. I really like the solidness of the piece, a solidness from which the rust detracts little. The light casts an interesting shadow and the scattered red buds are a nice complement to the rusty tones.

This was a case of shooting what caught my eye, without too much thought at the moment. I simply knew that I liked what I saw.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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As I was admiring the beautiful tulips in my neighbors’ garden, I noticed this fly perched on the edge of one of them. In a different setting he might have gone unnoticed, but here the details of the fly provide a nice contrast with the wonderful primary colors of the tulips in the background.

With spring here in full force, I am reacquainting myself with my macro lens, causing me to look more closely at details like the red compound eyes of this fly and his hairy back legs.  It’s fun too to note the details of his tiny little feet.

I am now remembering how much I have to pay attention to lighting, depth of field, and shutter speed when shooting macro shots, particularly because my macro lens is not image stabilized. Very minor problems can really be magnified when I try to get in this close, especially with an animate subject.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It doesn’t get much simpler than this—light shining through this leaf from behind created a graphic image that stands out from its blurry background. The color palette is mostly just shades of green. The suggestions of lines in the background help to add some visual interest.

The image is both striking and soothing to me, an interesting combination of reactions.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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We’ll have more ladybugs in our neighborhood even sooner than I expected.

My neighbor and photography mentor, Cindy Dyer, has ladybug larvae in her garden as I showed in a recent posting. Some of them have already entered the pupa stage, the final stage before adulthood. Once metamorphosis is complete, the shell splits open and a full-grown ladybug emerges. Initially, the shell is soft, but pretty rapidly the exoskeleton hardens and takes on the look that we associate with ladybugs.

Here’s a photo from today of a ladybug pupa. I think that it is probably from a Harlequin Ladybug (Harmonia axyridis), a type that is also known as the Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle. If you want to know more about the life cycle of a ladybug, check out the posting that I did last fall entitled Baby Ladybugs.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Although it is exciting to be able to capture a photo of a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) flying or catching a fish, I find them to be beautiful even when they are standing still.

I came upon this heron early one morning a week ago or so and was struck by the serenity of the moment. The heron seemed pensive and the beautiful morning light helped to provide some wonderful reflections in the still water of the beaver pond.

The second shot was taken a little later that same morning, after the heron had groomed himself. In this photo, I am amazed at how tall the heron looks with his neck fully extended.

It was rare for me to be able to get unobstructed shots of a heron from relatively close range, and I was pretty happy to be able to get shots like this.

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Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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