Sunday 16 November 2014

Eastern Crowned Warbler

I was off work over the half term week and spent most of my time making flat pack furniture or playing Risk Legacy (I won!). Fortunately I had organised a day birding on the Friday. On the Thursday pm an Eastern Crowned Warbler was found in the correct part of Cleveland at Brotton. I crossed my fingers and got up there for first light and manage to connect with top views as it was in a tree in front of me showing all its salient ID points including the central crown stripe and lemon undertail as well as its Arctic Warblery front end before it then alighted in the tree immediately above Andy Hood and myself. I bumped into a few familiar faces including Steve Lawton and Jim Welford who both connected. LEGO was also present for comedy value but kept a low profile. A couple of Yellow-browed Warblers were knocking about calling their heads off.

Pic courtesy of Richard Willison
The ECW was brit tick number 350 almost 5 years on from number 300 and also 5 years on from the first one which I missed due to the arrival of my daughter, Isabelle. Bless. It also takes me onto 305 for Yorkshire, There was a brief Blackpoll at Spurn on the Sunday which disappeared quick smart thankfully as I wasnt getting there. 

Up in Newcastle I had a brief seawatch last Thrusday which precipitated a few Little Auks and a tonne of thrushes coming in off. Little Auk was a patch tick and Fieldfare was a patch year tick so all good!

Tuesday 11 November 2014


So I was the proud owner of the Somerset Avocet record count for 24 hours. I managed 387 on Monday beating the day old record from the WeBS count of 368. Today a colleague managed 420 and I'm assuming this will only go up. Yesterday we managed to get between us 5 Water Pipits, 2 Woodlarks, a Lapland Bunting, 2 Short-eared Owls and a possible Short-toed Lark. Of this lot I got 1 SEO. Rubbish!

Today was wet and virtually birdless and whilst one of the guys upstream pulled out a Rose-coloured Starling juvvie the only bird of note for me was a goodie - a moulting adult Great Northern Diver which plopped down infront of me before flying off towards Bridgwater. There was infact another out near Stert Island which is a shock as we had one last winter as well which was the first for 20 years apparently. 

Ooooh arrrrrr!

Or alternatively ‘I'm a cider drinker’. I'm back in Somerset and hoping for the Pallid Harrier that has been seen at Steart Marshes over the last three weeks. It's appearance has been intermittent in the last few days but I am hoping that is weather and lack of coverage rather than anything else. The area has bags of potential so I am looking forward to this one. Nothing much to report today other than I won a side comp in Fantasy Football so I don't need the heinous Theo Walcott stretcher photo as my profile pic for a fortnight. Just thinking up something horrible for Mark in the unlikely event I win next time out.

Sunday 26 October 2014

First for North Tyneside

On Friday me and Pete went for a seawatch at St Mary's taking advantage of amazing light conditions if not ideal winds... A handful of Red-throated Divers, Common Scoter and a single Great Northern Diver whizzed by. At 08.30 I picked up a scoter flying south close inshore. It gave amazing views in perfect viewing and proved to be a female Surf Scoter. Rather incredible this species has never been recorded in North Tyneside before so this should prove to be the first record. I hadnt yet got my camera out of the car so I have had to prove that I cant draw for toffee!

Just prior to the Surf Scoter I had very brief views of a Minke Whale including a rarely seen blow - pathetic is the best word to describe it but the millpond sea and absence of wind gave me my first views of this despite seeing tens of Minke's before.

About ten minutes after the Scoter approximately 15 Bottlenose Dolphins made their way slowly north in a pod containing several young animals. Sadly not too much frolicking but always an awesome sight and I managed a couple of videos.

 David Elliot managed some distant photos of the Rough-legged Buzzard I found at Widdrington Moor whilst looking from West Chevington (closer to where I was). Good for some corroboration and significantly better views than I managed.

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Suited and Booted

Dealt severely with one of my bogey birds this morning when I got crippling views of a Booted Warbler at Torness Power Station. It was doing a bit of sub-singing which I guess makes it a male. Also a Siberian Lesser Whitethroat in the same place.

Rolled up to the office and heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling which is odd as we are in the middle of Gosforth, Newcastle. I managed to get Pete on the call but neither of us saw it.

Headed out for the afternoon and found a male Scaup at East Chevington and then a Rough-legged Buzzard over Widdrington Moor. Madness.

Monday 29 September 2014

Pan-species Listing

So today I managed to bring 700 species up on my pan-species list with a pair of spiders around the house. One was a bolt from the blue. Well actually from the brown bin where we recycle the vegetable matter from round the garden. And the second was a couple of spiders on the garage door which I have been meaning to look at properly for ages.

The Rabbit Hutch Spider Steatoda bipunctata was on the bin and is one of the native false widows (and not the introduced scare spider S. nobilis). A very smart spider showing the distinctive dimples on its abdomen.

The second was the Missing Sector Spider Zygiella x-notata which came out just before dusk. ID was thanks to Africa Gomez who managed to set me right. Number 700.

Sunday 21 September 2014

Masked Shrike!

Finally got away to see this late on today and had great views as it worked the hedge with a couple of Redstarts. Terrible photos but some bad video as well!

A bonus Redstart messing about below. I also managed very brief views of the Red-breasted Flycatcher.

Saturday 13 September 2014

Ulrome and Barmston

Yesterday I went out for a wander for the first time since a bit of minor surgery and rather gingerly meandered round the patch. A thin scattering of passerine migrants was obvious with squadrons of swallows and finches heading south and the odd Chiffchaff in the bushes. A couple of Wheatears around the wader flash were nice as was a Grey Wagtail heading north. A Grey Heron heading south was a patch year tick.

The drain revealed a couple of Kingfishers and a Sedge Warbler . The plantation wasn't filled with migrants but a Goldcrest could have been either fresh in or a local breeder. Who knows? A decent way to pass a few hours. Plenty of drift going on ATM so hopefully I'll get out this weekend and find something better.

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Little Stints at St Mary's

I managed to add plenty to this years St. Mary's Island list over the last couple of weeks with headlines of Little Stint as featured in the video below. Two of them were pottering about with the waders in the South Bay on Monday evening. I have also managed to add both Grey and Yellow Wagtails, Water Rail and some other common stuff taking the yearlist on to 98 species and 120 patchwork challenge points (only 13 behind Barmston). Also features below is a bad video of the Prestwick Carr Woodchat Shrike.

Sunday 24 August 2014

A Cheeky Seawatch

So today I decided to sleep in, do nowt and then play away from home with a trip to Flamborough. Old fall flash revealed nowt so I went for a seawatch between 1520 and 1930. Aside from a sore back and cold arse I managed a few decent birds. First up was a dark morph adult Pomarine Skua giving a juvenile Great Black-backed Gull hell. Aside from that very little was doing other than triples of Arctic Skua and Manx Shearwater. Craig Thomas then found a Caspian Gull on the sea in front of us. A very sexy juvenile and a much overdue Yorkshire Tick...

Then Brett came along and 2 different Cory's Shearwaters went north. It is almost five years to the day since my last Yorkshire Cory's in the same place. Below is perhaps the worst picture of a large shearwater ever... In my defence it was about 2 miles out.

Both birds tracked north slowly and were on show for 15 minutes each although the second bird kept putting down on the water. All said a successful day!

Saturday 23 August 2014

Stilt Sandpiper

I managed to catch up with the Cresswell Pond Stilt Sandpiper the other week. This bird gave me the run around with a dip early on in its stay followed by it going missing for 45 minutes whilst we were at Cresswell. My photos are crap so I have just stuck the video up here. It was found roosting between a Lapwing and a Redshank which were stuck together. Sneaky bugger.

Also knocking about were plenty of other waders including Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Common Sandpiper and lots of Dunlin. The Stilt Sandpiper was UK tick 348 - can I get to 350 this year?

Bonkers at Barmston

I came home from work yesterday after surveying in D&G. Ma famille are in Spain so I went for a seawatch. It was bonkers. I watched from Ulrome and the whole of Bridlington Bay was full of terns and gulls. A Manx Shearwater early on was not a portent of a big movement. Instead it was the commic terns and Sandwich Terns which were the stars. My first Barmston Arctic Tern was followed by loads more... A juv Black Tern was amongst the Sarnies with its headphones on. The first of three Arctic Skuas was nailing terns out in the bay and the second, a dark morph, flushed plenty of gulls including three Little Gulls. After this Little Gulls seemed to enter the bay in huge numbers. Several hundred were noted in all directions and distances. One even managed to evade the third Arctic Skua by doing tight circles and rising higher. The skua gave up, mobbed a Kittiwake which eventually disgourged its fish only for another skua to snatch this. The Arctic got on its bike and chased the second skua which was a light morph obviously, 4/5 the size of the Arctic and with a single long tail streamer. Long-tailed Skua! Brilliant. Late on an obviously brutish juvenile gull with a white rump and a masked head went past. My first Barmston Yellow-legged Gull. Sadly the camera was charging so I havent got any shots. The YL Gull, LT Skua and the Arctic Tern were all full patch ticks.

This morning at Ulrome was also pretty productive. The bay still had some terns and Little Gulls as well as plenty of larger gulls. Not a lot was passing though and so I started looking at the bushes. A Yellow Wagtail  was expected year tick and a number of juvs flew over. A small bird was calling from a sycamore - naked eye views suggested a warbler and the sound recalled a swallow or pied wagtail. I got the bins up and it had disappeared. It called a few more times but never showed and the incumbents of the caravan and tent started giving me grief so I gave it up. Potential Greenish Warbler binned. Aside from a few more wagtails there wasnt much more until I got to Barmston drain. Here an adult looking Cuckoo sat in vegetation before flying north. I managed to rattle off some shots and got one that showed mealiness on the upperwing showing that the bird was a juv.

As I walked along the drain a Greenshank flew over calling. My second record for the site after one migrating north in 2013 along the beach. Some kids playing in the woods at Barmston ensured there were no migrants resting up there as they had stick fights but the sight of 6 Buzzards circling overhead indicated that it was a successful breeding season here. The rape had been harvested around Barmston and birds were busy feeding in the margins of the field. Amongst the Tree Sparrows, Mistle Thrushes and Blackbirds a smaller bird worked through the ivy adjacent to the methodist church - a Lesser Whitethroat. Yet another patch tick! Rain was starting to threaten so I pegged it back to Ulrome but not before I picked out a juv/1st winter Yellow-legged Gull amongst the large gulls. It is seemingly the same bird that was at Flamborough over the last few days. Now if I could get one of their Caspians it would be good... This slightly crackers run of 9 patch year ticks including 5 patch ticks takes me on to 109 species and 133 points for Patchwork Challenge. Last year I finished on 121 species and 155 points and by the end of August I was on 111 species and 136 points at the end of August so still a chance. It is the first time this year I have been within touching distance of last years score and the low effort level from the autumn means I am in with a chance of beating the 100%.

More Somerset

Here is a crappy shot of the Noah's Lake Black Tern and a Ham Wall RSPB Bittern from the other week.

On my last visit I visited a butterfly reserve called Green Down. Here there was a plethora of butterflies and despite failing to see the Large Blues and Brown Hairstreaks there was plenty to enjoy. Clouded Yellows were all over with plenty of Common Blues and my first UK Brown Argus. Cracking - I will be back when the Large Blues are flying.

Saturday 16 August 2014


Last week I was working in Somerset which is again set to be a regular occurrence. I had a little downtime and managed a couple of visits to Ham Wall/Shapwick and also my first visits to Blagdon and Chew Valley Lake.

As per usual Great White Egrets were in abundance at Ham Wall with several seen. Estimates of numbers are tough as the most I have seen simultaneously is 5 but I would be surprised if the true number wasn't in the teens. No bitterns but a Hobby over Noah's Lake was pretty decent. No sooner had I told a colleague that the conditions looked perfect for a Black Tern then one appeared, a juvenile which seems to have stuck about. 

A Lesser Scaup was at Blagdon as was a male Ruddy Duck. The Lesser Scaup was in almost identical plumage to the surrounding Tufted Ducks aside from some grey scaps just moulting in and a chestnut sheen to the breast. The small nail and half wing bar confirmed it's ID but very subtle. The Ruddy Duck was my first for 4 years and testament to the success of the cull. A very smart duck but undoubtedly a threat to White-headed Ducks.

One surprise was a handful of Clouded Yellows flying over the meadow from where the Lesser Scaup was watched. Aside from a Greek one a couple of weeks ago these were the first I had seen since one at Flamborough when the first Brown Flycatcher was there.

Wednesday 13 August 2014


Whilst on Thassos I noticed plenty of non-avian delights including a few butterflies. I have a passing interest in this sort of thing at home and so took a few shots. There were a handful of Swallowtails knocking about and a large white type was regular in the gardens. On the flowers were two main species - Long-tailed Blue and Grecian Copper. The other species that I noted around and about was Clouded Yellow. Here are a couple of shots of the Long-tailed Blues and Grecian Coppers.

Tuesday 12 August 2014

Bird Fair 2014

The Bird Fair cometh and I rather unbeliveably am working there on the Sunday as part of the Patchwork Challenge team based on Forest Optics stall. I will be there to talk all things PWC and hopefully meet some of the contestants from this season and encourage others to take part. I will also be having a go with some of the optics on display and having a general mooch. If you fancy it come and say hello and if you are interested in taking part in 2015 then let us know and we can fill you in about the competition.

Sunday 10 August 2014


I spent the second half of July on the rather lovely Greek island of Thassos. Not an obvious birding destination due to a lack of standing water but the extensive rainfall off-season combined with marble and chalk bedrocks leads to plenty of ground water and a wastefulness that has to be seen to be believed. This all leads to plentiful habitat with olive groves at low levels leading into deciduous and pine forest further up. Access to the higher elevations is tricky due to a lack of paved roads and I only managed to get to 800m asl. There wasnt a lot of diversity of passerines with Spotted Flycatcher, House Sparrow and Great Tit the standards. A few decent bits and pieces were encountered and I managed a couple of lifers which is always a bonus.

We flew into Kavala on the mainland and the short trip to the ferry at Kirimoti took only 20 minutes. There were a handful of White Storks seen on the way through with some nesting on rooftops. The first Red-rumped Swallows were feeding over the Nestos delta. At the ferry port a few Little Egrets were seen amongst the plethora of Yellow-legged Gulls. The journey across was quiet as was the transfer to Skala Rahoni.

The first afternoon I went for a quick walk up toward Rahoni. This was equally quiet but a Honey Buzzard decided to liven things up when it showed for an extended period.

The following morning an early walk turned up Hoopoe, Icterine Warbler and Blue Tit. Further afield a Nightingale briefly sang and then there were Red-backed Shrikes everywhere. A flat Eastern Montpellier Snake on the road pointed that there were some in the locale and a large example snuck away into a brush pile. Some raptors on the other side of the valley to the Honey Buzzard turned out to be Common Buzzards despite my best stringing efforts.

A boat trip gave me my first lifer of the trip as an Eleanora's Falcon hunted over the sea cliffs was the first of several during the trip. Three Avocets were seen in flight heading towards Turkey from Panagea island off the south coast.

We went up to Panagea after a visit to the beach between there and Thassos town. A raptor was high above the town and about 40 Raven soared over a ridge. A Hobby was hunting hirundines and swifts with the first Pallid and Alpine Swifts seen.

Further exploration around the hotel later in the holiday turned up Goshawk being mobbed by two Hobbys. Another Honey Buzzard was on territory near Rahoni. Eleanora's Falcon's were seen almost daily over the hotel including two hunting hirundines one evening which were mobbed by the Hobbys nesting up the valley. A small group of Bee-eaters flew over the hotel on an afternoon and were the only sighting of this cracking species. I heard Sardinian Warbler on a number of occasions but views were usually of the back end heading into a bush.

On the final Friday there was a torrential rain storm and this led to a few interesting sightings including a number of Scopoli's Shearwaters offshore plus a few Green Toads and a Balkan Pond Turtle. The second lifer of the trip was a Black Woodpecker which flew across the road whilst we were in the forest en route to Golden Beach.

The return journey across to Kirimoti turned up a few Mediterranean Gulls, an Audouin's Gull and a couple of Black-headed Gulls. Shags were frequently seen on the sea.

Wednesday 16 July 2014

St Mary's Island Seawatching

After getting up at a mind-boggling 2.15am I finished work at just gone nine so I ambled from the moors to the coast. It was warm and there were light South-westerlies. Not exactly ideal seawatching conditions. Fortunately the heat haze didnt get too bad but it made me jib the only skua of the day up near Blyth. As passage was slow to non-existant I did an obs style count of most stuff except the large gulls, Gannets and Kittiwakes. This mostly comprised of Sandwich Terns tbh. Concentrating on the terns meant I picked up todays stars - an adult and juvenile Roseate Tern which passed over the rocks just in front of me. The same birds were then seen nearly four hours later going past Hartlepool Headland.

Common Tern
Aside from the terns I added a further three patch year ticks with both Peregrine and Heron coming in off with the former attacking the only flock of Common Scoter of the day albeit half heartedly. The final patch year tick was a Red-throated Diver south close in. A good few Cormorants went north and there was a light passage of Swifts south offshore. A family of Common Terns fed around the island for much of the watch but failed to mask a small movement of this species later on. I finished up at half one absolutely shattered.

Thursday 26 June 2014

A Quiet June

I hit up Barmston for the first time in an age yesterday as a lack of avian interest and the fact that summer distractions were abounding. Despite this I made my way down there yesterday and what a decision that was! Bridlington Bay was full of seabirds with hundreds of Gannets, Razorbills, Guillemots and Kittiwakes feeding close inshore. I couldn't winkle out a Little Gull which I still need but I did find my first Barmston Puffin which was a result. A Bonxie marauding offshore was also a first for the year.

Autumn was very much in evidence as failed breeders were noted in the forms of ducks and Curlew. Offshore there were well over 120 Common Scoter bombing about in various small groups with a small group of Wigeon out there too and these were a patch year tick. A handful of Teal included a two and a five which may relate to the same birds but equally may not... On the land two Curlews landed briefly on the fields to the north of the caravan park and were heard at various points. Another two headed south offshore and 10 headed north along the beach. The amount of crossover? Not sure to be honest. A Grey Wagtail over the rape fields was a first for the year and a huge kettle of gulls contained a couple of Sparrowhawks and 3 Kestrels and finally my first patch Buzzard for 2014. This barrage of patch ticks takes me onto 99 species. Can I get the ton today?

Saturday 31 May 2014

Bee-eaters and back to St Mary's

So I had been out on a dawn survey in the middle of nowhere. This meant I had to get up at 3.15am. I was wrapped up with work just after 11 and started the trip back to Yorkshire. Realising that breaking the journey in half would stop me sticking the car in a ditch, Yorkshire's northernmost outpost, South Gare, came to mind. I hadnt seen any updates for the day but went on-spec hoping for an Icky or such like. I certainly wasnt aware of anything from the previous day so after 10 minutes when I saw a long-thin banana shape in a tree 800m away I got a funny feeling and took a shot with the SX50... Here is the result.

When I saw this I nearly soiled myself
The colours! The little alarm bell in my head that went off about the shape was confirmed and I legged it up the road bumping into the warden on the way up who told me three had been present the previous evening. Eventually three of them popped out, a pair and a spare with two always close and a third bird which went missing occasionally. I watched them for an hour from about 70m away and got some terrible photos and video. Bee-eater is a UK and Yorkshire tick and takes me on to 347/302 respectively.

I also managed a few trips to St Mary's now that I am based back in Newcastle. Four visits on three days over the last fortnight added 50 species and 57 Patchwork Challenge points. Best bits have been a Goosander south although it had fishing tackle wrapped around its legs sadly, a singing Grasshopper Warbler and best of all a Spotted Flycatcher which was around the scrub and was twitched by a couple of locals. A juvenile Stonechat had presumably not come too far but hadnt been raised on the patch. I also bumped into Jack Bucknall and he gave me some cracking gen which will hopefully yield results.

Saturday 17 May 2014

Busy Times

A super busy few weeks have involved plenty of birds both on patch, at work and further afield. Working in Scotland has produced the odd opportunity to sneak away and see some of the charismatic birds of the area and I have had the fortune to bump into some of them whilst working too. Mammals have also been significant in their presence and aside from the Monarch of the Glen I managed a couple of lifers. I completed my UK deer collection with some smart Sika Deer after some indecision on animals in the south west seen at distance. The penultimate addition to my UK mustelids was a stonking Pine Martin shuffling along a forest track at 4.30am. I dont know who had the bigger shock!

Terrible quality due to keeping my distance. Its a Red-throat ;-)
A day trip across Wester Ross and into Sutherland didnt produce a heap of sightings as hoped but was amazing with the mountain An Teallach proving a definite highlight as was a sky dancing Hen Harrier. Up at Findhorn we managed to see a couple of super distant Golden Eagles which were pretty rocking. Various other locales have variously produced Black Grouse, Black-throated and Red-throated Diver, Slavonian Grebe and Capercaillie with several types of Crossbill encountered.

My commutes to and from Scotland have been punctuated with a handful of decent birds with a Lesser Yellowlegs at Beadnell last week and Wood Sandpiper, Spoonbill and Garganey yesterday in Druridge Bay.

On patch it hasnt been quite as successful but I have managed to get the ball rolling quicker at Barmston with 92 species now and 103 points for Patchwork Challenge. Mostly it has been the expected migrants but some of the scarcer passage stuff has been pleasant. A trio of Whimbrels early morning were brilliant, especially as they were proceded by a Little Owl, a patch tick. The flood by the sewage outfall occasionally gets waders and this months triple bill of Common Sandpipers and a breeding plumaged Dunlin were great. Terns returned with fifty-odd Sandwich Terns and 3 Common Terns foraged offshore. After last months Gadwall setting up on patch, a couple of pairs of Tufted Ducks were on the drain with one pair hanging on and looking interested. An immature Mute Swan probably hadnt come far but was a welcome addition on a flood after torrential rain last weekend. Passerines were in relatively short supply with no groppers or ouzels for me but I finally added Rock Pipit and a cracking Greenland Wheatear.

We have also started the CES season of ringing at Tophill Low with several Lesser Whitethroats. Check out the ringing blog for write up

Friday 25 April 2014


I recently hosted those birding icons of badinage and repartee, the Dove Steppers. Robert Yaxley and Jonny Rankin made a lasting impression on my eldest who wants to know why people kill doves when they mean peace. My answer? I don't know. That makes me sad - I can't answer my four year old daughter as to why the world is cruel. What can we do she asks? I donated to Dove Step but I felt it wasn't enough and now I know why. Because of hunting. Spring migration hunting. Illegal hunting. Persecution of protected species. It makes my stomach churn.

Tonight like many others I took part in the twitter storm instigated by Chris Packham and I urged people to write to their MEP. And write to the environment minister in Malta. I have done the first and I will so the second. I love bird watching, birding, bird spotting, birdwatching. Who cares about the label? I love it but more than that I love birds and the only way I can think to support those that take part in the Birdlife Malta camps without being there is through the legal process. Malta is a signatory to the EU birds directive and as an EU citizen I can ask my MEP to ensure that Malta honours it's legal responsibilities. I have done so through which did the hard work. I just needed to know my own address and to write the letter. I asked for two things:- an end to illegal hunting on Malta.
                                                                                                             - an end to legal spring hunting which is against the EU birds directive.

We shall see where this leads but Chris Packham has proved the perfect magnet to facilitate change, we can make a difference. The twitter storm managed to trend nationally and provoke international interest. Not too bad. Now we need to follow it through. Talk is cheap. Watch these videos

And email this chap 

You know it makes sense. So does my daughter.

Wednesday 23 April 2014


Im on a week off and in that time with the addition of a day the previous weekend I have managed to add 17 patch ticks. Not gone mental at all and currently sitting on 76 species and 85 points (I think). Such luminaries as Moorhen and Greylag are now gracing the list and no less than three new patch ticks were acquired. The best of the three was undoubtedly a pair of Gadwall  which at present seem set on breeding in one of the ditches. A fly past Canada Goose was enough for me... May I see one of those each and every year but no more.

Gank. Honk.
There seem to be a few more of these guys breeding on patch this year.
The now very bleached Kumlien's Gull went past earlier in the month
The first migrants are in and a Sedge Warbler singing from a bush abutting the caravan park was probably the best so far. Nothing too crazy but House Martin also added yesterday. On the sea and a few Fulmars passing close inshore drew a Gannet along the shoreline. Usually the year tick is a spot on the horizon. Curlew and Golden Plover are both migrants on the patch so getting them both was a fillip.

Away from the patchwork and it has been upland forests including plenty of Schedule 1 action. I had an Osprey on the 1st April and several Goshawks which are always good. Locations obviously arent even going to be referred to due to work/their sensitivity etc. Not sure you can garner much from the sky here though:

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

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