Neighborhood Nature

Our Family’s Nature Blog

And now they are eating…caterpillars! May 18, 2011

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Bugs,Experiments,Plants,Puzzles and Mysteries,Seasons,Spring,Trees — saltthesandbox @ 8:20 pm

Almost two weeks ago we solved the mystery of what warblers were eating in the streets of south Oak Park: Beetle larvae!

Well, the beetle larvae are not longer tumbling from our elm trees, but the warblers and thrushes and Indigo Buntings keep coming, along with tanagers and orioles and more! So, to find out what the birds are eating now, I grabbed a white plastic box lid, held it under some low elm branches, and started shaking:

I shook the elm branches and caught whatever fell off them with a white plastic lid.

Here’s what I found: Little green caterpillars! (I put the dime there. Money doesn’t grow on trees in our neighborhood.)

Little green caterpillars that have been feeding on newly opened elm leaves.

Just in case someone out there can identify what type of moths or butterflies these become, here are some closer views:

Little green caterpillar number 1.

Little green caterpillar number 2.

I can’t identify the caterpillars, but I do know they taste good to birds. During the past week, we’ve seen 23 kinds of warblers feeding in and under our elm trees:

Golden-winged Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Northern Parula

Yellow Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

Cape May Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

Palm Warbler

Bay-breasted Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Black-and-white Warbler

American Redstart

Ovenbird

Northern Waterthrush

Mourning Warbler

Hooded Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

Canada Warbler

Feeding along with the warblers we’ve seen:

Yellow-throated Vireo, Warbling Vireo, and Red-eyed Vireo

Veery, Gray-cheeked Thrush, and Swainson’s Thrush

Gray Catbird

Summer Tanager and Scarlet Tanager

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Indigo Bunting

and Baltimore Oriole

These birds are all spring migrants. The Catbird is the only one who’s likely to stay and nest in our neighborhood. The caterpillars in our elm trees have helped them survive and refuel before the next night with southerly winds to speed them on their journey north.

Did I mention that last week we found thousands of tiny caterpillar poops on our cars each morning? The polite term for caterpillar poop is frass. This morning our cars were almost frass-free, although there was lots of bird poop on our windshields.

We’ll finally get some southerly winds later this week, so we expect most migrant birds to continue north. In their wake we expect our elms to enjoy an almost caterpillar-free summer.

Now if we could just find a biological control for the bark beetles that spread Dutch Elm Disease….

 

Look What’s Falling from Our Elm Trees! May 4, 2011

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Plants,Puzzles and Mysteries,Seasons,Spring,Trees — saltthesandbox @ 7:59 am

Every spring there are a few days in late April and early May when we see warblers in the streets, feeding on something. Two years ago it happened in late April, as seen in these photos of Yellow-rumped Warblers on our south Oak Park  block:

Yellow-rumped Warblers feeding on South Elmwood Street, April 27, 2009

Yellow-rumped Warbler on South Elmwood Street, April 27, 2009

Well, it’s been happening again the past few days. It’s like a block party for the birds, and it got me wondering–what’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? What tasty things are the warblers feeding on?

My best guess was that there was some sort of insect feeding on the opening leaves of the American Elms that tower over many sections of our block. Every spring there are also warblers feeding on something in the treetops, and every year there are tiny holes chewed in the leaves:

American Elm leaves - note the insect-chewed holes.

So, I was thinking that maybe whatever was feeding on the leaves somehow fell to the ground, where sharp-eyed warblers could spot them on the asphalt and continue their meals.

To test my hypothesis, I placed a white plastic lid where it could catch whatever was falling. I left it there from late afternoon yesterday until early this morning:

White plastic lid set up to catch whatever fell from the elms. May 4, 2011

Then, this morning, I brought the lid inside to see what I could find. It was covered with tiny, pale yellow grub-like insect larvae!

Tiny, pale yellow grub-like insect larvae that fell onto the lid

Closer view of grub-like insect larvae

So, one question answered: That’s what’s falling from the trees, and probably what the warblers are eating. But many questions remain:

  • What are these things? Hatchling caterpillars, or some other kind of insect?
  • Why are so many falling from the trees? Shouldn’t they be better adapted to hang onto the leaves? Or do they “jump” whenever a bird is picking at their leaf?
  • Once they hit the ground, they are still alive–you can see them moving. Can they somehow continue to live on the ground, perhaps feeding on fallen elm leaves and elm seeds? If so, when they are larger and stronger, would they climb back up into the trees?

So, I guess our next challenge is to try to raise a bunch of the larvae until they are large enough to identify. And once they are bigger we can put some of them at the base of an elm tree and see what happens.

I’ll let you know what happens!

—–

A few hours I posted this, a Facebook friend and garden designer made this comment (Thanks, René!):

“I’m no entomologist, but after some research, my best guess is Elm Leaf Beetle. These guys feed on elms and drop to the ground in large numbers as little yellow guys to pupate. Sounds like the yellow-rumped Warblers are doing a good job of natural pest control.”

Here’s a photo of Elm Leaf Beetle damage: http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/X/I-CO-XLUT-CD.004.html
Here’s a drawing of the Elm Leaf Beetle life cycle: http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pni7403-2.html
Here’s a photo of some Elm Leaf Beetle pupae: http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/X/I-CO-XLUT-EA.001.html

We’ve put some of our fallen larvae (or whatever) into a plastic box with newly opened leaves–now we’ll see what happens!

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Here are links to our earlier blog posts about birds in our streets:

 

I’m Devoting this Spring to Mobile Media April 14, 2010

Last fall I got my first iPhone, so I’m devoting this year to exploring nature with mobile devices. I bought bird guide apps like iBird Pro and Sibley Birds, and they’re pretty useful. However, I’m most interested in using my iPhone to enter and explore data about the nature in our neighborhood. Here are three ways I’m doing that, using both my iPhone and laptop computer:

  • Project Noah. Read about my early experiences with Project Noah here. To date I’ve posted 30 photos, mostly from Columbus Park and our neighborhood in south Oak Park. To find them, go to the Project Noah home page, type Chicago in the search box, and zoom into the center of the map. I planted most of the tiny leaves on the west side of town. Click on a leaf to see and read about my sightings.
  • @NearbyNature on Twitter. Twitter is where I post frequent, really short reports about the nature seen in our neighborhood (and elsewhere). These Nature Updates are also listed on this blog page at the top of the right menu.
  • eBird. I’ve been using eBird for three years now, and I’ve submitted more than 1000 lists, mostly from our neighborhood. You can see my latest lists on the Web by visiting my blog pages for Columbus Park, south Oak Park, and our block. Now you can also access eBird data using an iPhone app called BirdsEye.

So, that’s where most my online time and effort are going this spring and summer. I won’t be posting as often on this blog, but if you want to find out what I’m up to, now you know where to look.

 

I’m On Board With Project Noah March 15, 2010

A few days ago I uploaded my first post to Project Noah. “Noah” stands for “Networked Organisms And Habitats.” To quote from their About page:

“Noah is a tool that nature lovers can use to explore and document local wildlife and a common technology platform that research groups can use to harness the power of citizen scientists everywhere.”

I loaded the free Noah app onto my iPhone, and now I can upload photos to Project Noah from almost anywhere I go. I also can access Noah posts from either my iPhone or over the Web on my home computer. I can choose nearby Noah post locations to investigate from either a stack of photos (arranged by distance, closest first) or from a satellite map (precise locations marked on the map by small leaves).

So far, I’ve uploaded photos of:

  • Spring flowers, like Snowdrops (go here to see them)
  • A pellet from our favorite Great Horned Owl (go here)
  • Some Herring Gulls eating dead fish on the ice at Columbus Park (go here)

But my favorite post is a photo of a white Opossum I found a few days ago at Columbus Park:

I snapped this iPhone photo of the white Opossum in Columbus Park on the west side of Chicago.

My Noah post for this Possum can be found here.

So, for the next month or so I’ll be posting iPhotos I take around the neighborhood and beyond. If enough folks start doing the same thing in their neighborhoods, Project Noah could become a really cool resource for anyone interested in finding nature near their homes and beyond.

To see what’s been posted near you, just:

  • Go the the Project Noah home page (here).
  • Type your location into the search box above the map.
  • Look for the tiny leaves (individual photos) or round circles with numbers (when the leaves overlap because there are lots of posts from the same area).
  • Then start clicking to see what other folks have been seeing in your neighborhood.

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To read about the Project Noah development team, go here.

Here’s what some other folks have to say about Project Noah:

 

Buckeyes Are Ripening, But They Aren’t Ready Yet July 20, 2009

Filed under: Plants,Seasons,Spring,Summer,Trees — saltthesandbox @ 4:13 pm
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For more than 10 years our family has been collecting Buckeyes from a tree near our home. Why? Well, Buckeyes are just great things to have, and to hold, and to rub with your thumb and carry around in your pocket! So, I got really excited when I found the first of the new crop laying on the street:

The Buckeye nuts are inside a leathery hunk. Squirrels had started chewing on them, but given up.

The Buckeye nuts are inside a leathery husk. Squirrels had started chewing through the husk, but given up. The husks are an inch or two in diameter.

I took them home and cut into the husk, hoping I could peel it off to find the shiny brown nut inside. No such luck! The husk was really thick, and when I cut all the way through, I could see the nuts were nowhere close to ripe:

I cut one in half. The white thing inside would have become a nut if the squirrels and I had waited.

I cut a Buckeye in half. The white thing inside would have become a nut if the squirrels and I had waited.

So, I guess I should have waited, and the squirrels must have reached the same conclusion once they tasted what was inside the husk. But it doesn’t seem fair, because I have been waiting on this tree for more than two months! I waited while the Buckeye flowers bloomed in mid May:

The Buckeye flowers looked like this way back on May 19, 2009.

The Buckeye flowers looked like this way back on May 19, 2009.

When you looked closely, they were very beautiful! But they weren't much fun to play with.

When you look closely, Buckeye flowers are very beautiful, but they aren't much fun to play with.

I waited as the nuts began to grow later in May:

The Buckeye nuts looked like this after the flowers had faded away, on May 27, 2009.

The Buckeye nuts looked like this after the flowers had faded away, on May 27, 2009.

I waited as the nuts grew all through June:

Developing Buckeye nuts, Oak Park, Illinois, June 18, 2009

By June 18, only a few Buckeye nuts survived on this old flower stalk.

And I waited through the first weeks of July:

The growing Buckeyes looked like this on July 2, 2009.

The growing Buckeyes looked like this on July 2, 2009.

And now, as the Buckeyes finally are approaching ripeness, we are preparing to leave on vacation! So, just to remind me of what I was missing, I cracked open an old Buckeye that had sat on a shelf since last summer:

This Buckeye sat, unopened, since last summer, until I cracked it open with a pair of plyers.

This Buckeye sat, unopened, since last summer, until I cracked it open with a pair of pliers. Don't you want to pick up a Buckeye and rub it with your fingers (or throw it at your brother)?

I guess the squirrels will have this year’s Buckeye crop all to themselves. Unless, of course, you want to collect a few Buckeyes of your own. (This tree is in the northeast corner of Rehm Park in south Oak Park — but leave a few for the squirrels!)

Update added October 30, 2009: Buckeyes trees are similar to Horse Chestnut trees. Here’s a blog post from Scotland about collecting conkers, which look like buckeyes but come from Horse Chestnut trees: http://childrenandnature.ning.com/profiles/blogs/conkers-1

—–

Here are links to web pages with more information about this species of Buckeye:

  • Ohio Division of Forestry: Information about the Yellow Buckeye, which I think is the species in my photos, (because the husk is pretty smooth, not spiky).
  • Wikipedia: Encyclopedia-style entry about the Yellow Buckeye.

 

 

Turkish Filbert? That’s a New Tree to Me! July 18, 2009

Filed under: Plants,Seasons,Spring,Trees — saltthesandbox @ 4:30 pm
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This morning, while walking past Eastgate Cafe on my way to Columbus Park, I noticed some strange green things on one of the outdoor tables:

These strange green things had me stumped until I check the Oak Park Tree Inventory.

These strange green things had me stumped until I checked the Oak Park Tree Inventory.

I looked up into the tree they seemed to have fallen from, and I saw heart-shaped leaves with lots of teeth. Some teeth looked bigger than others:

The leaves were heard-shaped and had lots of teeth.

The leaves were heard-shaped and had lots of teeth.

I was stumped! I had walked past this tree dozens of times and assumed it was something familiar, like maybe a kind of basswood. Obviously I had not been paying close enough attention!

Fortunately, the Village of Oak Park has published an inventory of trees planted along Village streets (2009 version available here as a large PDF file). I couldn’t find the Eastgate Cafe’s exact address in the Inventory, but I did come across an unfamiliar tree name–Turkish Filbert–that was found at other places along Harrison Street. So I googled around until I found some photos of Turkish Filbert fruits. Some of the photos looked kind of similar to what I found, and some looked like exact matches, like the photos found here and here.

Those photos came from an Oregon State University web page (here), which also listed several other species in the same genus (Colylus). Some of those had similar fruits, so I can’t say for certain that the Eastgate Cafe tree is Corylus colurna, the Turkish Filbert. However, it does seem to be of that genus. (Another name for this species is Turkish Hazel, but there are other kinds of bushes and trees called Hazels, so I’ll stick with the common name Filbert for now.)

You may recognize “filbert” as a kind of nut, also known as the “hazelnut,” and Turkish Filbert trees really do produce nuts that people can eat. However, Wikipedia says that Turkish Filbert nuts are too small and their shells are too thick for them to have much commercial value. (Other Corylus species, like Common Hazel, probably produced the nuts you’ve eaten.) Regardless, I’m going to visit this tree throughout the summer, hoping to find some ripe nuts that I can eat!

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Here are some additional web sites with information about the Turkish Filbert:

 

Following Families of Canada Geese and Wood Ducks at Columbus Park June 8, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Seasons,Spring — saltthesandbox @ 11:30 am
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Late last week I returned to Columbus Park to check on the families of Canada Geese and Wood Ducks. The five-week-old Canada Goose goslings were bigger than ever and starting to replace their downy coverings with some adult-like feathers:

This five-week-old Canada Goose is starting to look like its parents.

This five-week-old Canada Goose is starting to look like its parents.

The goslings are growing fast because they almost never stop eating. Even as they rest, they continue to nibble on green grass at the edge of the lagoon:

The young Canada Geese rarely stop feeding on grass. One parent kept an eye on me as the other chased off another goose.

The young Canada Geese rarely stop feeding on grass. One parent kept an eye on me as the other parent chased off another goose.

Unfortunately, I saw only four young geese that day. Sometime during the previous week a gosling was lost, perhaps to a predator like a dog or raccoon.

Here are four additional posts about the Canada Goose family:

There was better news about the Wood Duck family — I saw all eleven ducklings last week. When I first saw them, the two-week-old ducklings were resting in the sun beside some turtles:

The two-week-old Wood Duck babies were resting on a log beside some turtles.

The two-week-old Wood Duck babies were resting on a log beside some turtles.

Later their mother took them for a meal in the shallow southwest part of the lagoon. Of course, once she saw me, she called them together, and they headed for cover:

x

The mother Wood Duck guided her family to safety when I got too close.

Here are two other posts about this Wood Duck family:

—–

To learn more about how Wood Ducks raise their young, you can check these websites:

  • All About Birds – Basic information about Wood Duck natural history, including nesting.
  • YouTube – First of a series of videos of Wood Ducks hatching and leaving the nest.
  • Wikipedia – Encyclopedia-style information about Wood Ducks.
  • Daily Herald – Story about how Wood Ducks are becoming more common in urban areas.

To learn more about Canada Goose families, you can check these websites:

  • All About Birds – Basic information about Canada Goose natural history, including nesting.
  • Wikipedia – Encyclopedia-style information about Canada Geese.

We’ll keep watching both families as they grow, and we’ll post more photos on this blog.

 

A Dickcissel in Our Backyard! June 1, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Seasons,Spring — saltthesandbox @ 9:09 am
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Dickcissels are small birds usually found in tallgrass prairies and unplowed farm fields. (As my friend Jane reminded me, “The character Laura in the book Little House on the Prairie watches Dickcissels flit in the tallgrass.”)

So this morning I was quite surprised to find one feeding in the brushy corner of our pocket-sized backyard in south Oak Park, Illinois! With their yellow-and-black breasts and stripy brown backs, Dickcissils look like miniature Meadowlarks:

The balck and yellow breast, yellow-and-white eye stripe, and gray on the side of the neck identify this as an adult male Dickcissel.

The back-and-yellow breast, yellow-and-white eye stripe, and gray on the side of the head and neck identify this bird as a male Dickcissel.

However, our Sibley Guide groups Dickcissels with the tanagers, grosbeaks, and cardinals. Sibley also says that Dickcissels sometimes hang with House Sparrows, as this one was today. In fact, when they turn away, Dickcissel backs look a lot like House Sparrow backs:

The Dickcissel back reminds me of a House Sparrow's back, but the yellow on the eye stripe and the gray coloring on its half-turned neck give it away.

The Dickcissel's back reminds me of a House Sparrow's back. However, the yellow on the eye stripe and the gray coloring on its half-turned neck give it away.

I guess it pays to look at every bird that visits your yard — you never know what will show up! It also pays to have a brush pile in your yard, however small. (Ethan repaired our brush pile earlier this spring.)

—–

Note added at about noon the same day:

I checked the eBird website to see where Dickcissels have been seen in our county. The closest location to us is Miller Meadow, a few miles west of here, where they have been seen in June and July the past two years. I wonder if they have nested there, since the habitat seems appropriate? (See this Illinois Birders’ Forum post for more information about Miller Meadow and nearby locations.)

And wouldn’t it be cool if this male Dickcissel found his way to the meadow habitats in Columbus Park, less than a mile east of our yard?

Note added 2 p.m. the same day:

Jill Anderson, who monitors Miller Meadow for eBird, just posted a report on IBET. She said she stopped by Miller Meadow today and saw a male Dickcissel — the first one she’s seen there this year. She also confirmed that Dickcissels have nested there the past few years.

Note added a week later: On Saturday, June 6, we made our first to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, south of Joliet, Illinois. The place was packed with singing Dickcissels, especially near the Explosives Road Trailhead! (See this map. Midewin used to be part of the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant.)

We hope our backyard Dickcissel found a place like Midewin to spend the summer.

—–

To learn more about Dickcissels, please visit these websites:

All About Birds: For a basic description of this species, with photos and song recordings, go here.

Wikipedia: For an encyclopedia-style entry, go here.

Dickcissel Conservation in Venezuela: Because they migrate to South America during our winter, protecting this species is an international issue. Go here to read more.

 

Tulip Tree Flowers May 29, 2009

Filed under: Plants,Seasons,Spring,Trees — saltthesandbox @ 12:07 pm
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Our neighborhood Tulip Tree is finally blooming! Lots of other trees flower first and then open their leaves, but Tulip Trees do the opposite. So, here’s a side view of the flower, which reminds me of a subtly colored garden tulip (if there is such a thing):

Our neighborhood Tulip Tree is finally flowering!

Our neighborhood Tulip Tree is finally flowering!

Now, let’s peek inside a flower. Because Tulip Trees are a kind of magnolia, there are lots of pollen-producing parts surrounding a cone-like mass of seed-producing parts. They say this is what some of the first flowers looked like, back during dinosaur times:

The Tulip Tree flower has lots of male parts surrounding a cone-shpaed mass of female parts.

The Tulip Tree flower has lots of male parts surrounding a cone-shaped mass of female parts.

The next photo shows an unopened bud below a flower:

Some of the buds are not yet open -- that means you have a few more days if you want to see this Tulip Tree in bloom.

Some of the buds are not yet open -- that means you have a few more days if you want to see this Tulip Tree in bloom.

Oak Parkers and other who want to see Tulip Tree flowers can find this tree on the south side of Rehm Park, where Scoville deadends into the park. It’s a young tree, so some flowers are at eye level for adults. There are other Tulip Trees in town, but they’re so tall that you need binoculars to appreciate the flowers.

We’ve been following this tree since early spring. In case you missed those posts, here’s what a Tulip Tree twig looked like on April 29, when the leaf buds had just opened:

The Tulip Tree buds have opened, revealing expanding leaves around the remains of last year's fruits.

On April 29, the Tulip Tree buds had opened, revealing expanding leaves around the remains of last year's fruits.

Also on April 29, the flower buds were just beginning to form:

On April 29 the flower buds were still rather small.

In late April the Tulip Tree's almond-shaped flower buds were rather small.

Back on April 8th, the leaf buds were opening below the remains of last year’s seed pods:

Back on April 8th, the leaf buds were just beginning to open.

On April 8th, the Tulip Tree's duckbill-shaped leaf buds were just beginning to open.

If you want to see what happens once the flowers fade away and seeds begin to form, go here.

——

Can you tell I like Tulip Trees? They remind me of my younger days, when I first explored the woodlands of southern Ohio and Indiana. I saw huge Tulip Trees in some of the old growth forests. I also love the link Tulip Trees provide to Early Cretaceous flowers (that’s the later part of dinosaur times). So, I’m glad that the Parks Department and Village Forester have planted at least a few Tulip Trees in our parks and along our streets.

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To learn more about Tulip Trees, you can check these websites:

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This post is our contribution to this month’s Festival of the Trees. This blog carnival includes several other Tulip Tree posts, plus posts on other tree flowers, tree fruits, knots and gnarls, and more. Go here to read the festival entries.

 

Now We Have Baby Wood Ducks, Too! May 28, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Seasons,Spring — saltthesandbox @ 4:39 pm
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This spring we’ve seen baby robins and baby geese at nearby Columbus Park. Late last week, while I was out town, the boys found baby Wood Ducks at Columbus Park. When I went back today, I found the mother duck with her week-old babies:

The mother Wood Duck watched her eleven babies -- and me.

The mother Wood Duck watched her eleven babies -- and me.

When I got too close, she gathered them together.

When I got too close, she gathered them together.

Then they headed for cover under bushes at the edge of the lagoon.

Then they headed for cover under bushes at the edge of the lagoon.

Mother Wood Ducks are small and not too strong. When danger threatens, they protect their babies by swimming away and hiding them. (Compare this to the larger, stronger Canada Geese — they protect their young by attacking anything that threatens them.)

We’re so happy to have a Wood Duck family at Columbus Park this year! We’ve been watching the parents since early March, when they first returned after spending the winter somewhere south of here. (Go here to see Ethan’s first Wood Duck photos of the year.) In mid April the mother Wood Duck disappeared, but we still saw the male on the lagoon most days. We hoped she had found a hollow tree to nest in — and it seems she did! And now, finally, the mother duck has brought her babies to the lagoon.

Here are two later posts about this Wood Duck family:

—–

To learn more about how Wood Ducks raise their young, you can check these websites:

  • All About Birds – Basic information about Wood Duck natural history, including nesting.
  • YouTube – First of a series of videos of Wood Ducks hatching and leaving the nest.
  • Wikipedia – Encyclopedia-style information about Wood Ducks.

We’ll keep watching the Wood Duck family as they grow, and we’ll post the photos on this blog.

 

 
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