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Old Tuesday 13th September 2011, 20:22   #1
Stephen Dunstan
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Out Skerries 13th-27th September

As I have broadband this year I will do a daily summary for anyone interested. A more professional effort will presumably be available from Mike McKee in due course, but between the two it should cover about five weeks in total and may be useful in charting the daily ups and downs of basing yourself here rather than day tripping as part of a wider itinery.

Day 1 - 13th September

Logistics to Sumburgh - up at 4am, drove to Edinburgh and flew in arriving late morning.

A brief look around the airport before the bus arrived produced a few species, including Bonxie, but no obvious migrants. The Good Shepherd was just leaving Grutness, presumably with a few birders on board.

Looked for the Pallid Harrier from the bus more in hope than expectation, didn't see anything other than common birds and a few Ravens.

The Skerries ferry leaves from Lerwick on Tuesday and Thursday and takes a couple of hours. In seven spring and autumn trips previously I have seen a good variety of wildlife but never any passage seabirds of note.

I was talking to a resident who is a birder, Peter Flint, when I saw a concentrated group of Gannets plunging in Bressay Sound and suggested there might be dolphins associating. Sure enough at least a couple of White-sided Dolphins were feeding, presumably more, but the Gannets melted away and I lost the dolphins before a more accurate count was possible.

Things got even better as we drew alongside Skerries as a Minke Whale breached really close to the boat. This was the second I had seen on this route, but this one was breathtakingly close. A fantastic experience.

As I came off the ferry Edwin Tait, who used to ring on Skerries, was around and told me it was very quiet. Sure enough the only definite migrant on the eastern island (Bruray) was a Willow Warbler, and crossing the bridge the east part of the western island (Housay) was also very quiet.

The iris bed on Housay is perhaps the best site on the island for migrants, but in the circumstances I wasn't expecting anything. It was a pleasant surprise then that the first bird I saw there was a Yellow-browed Warbler, only the second migrant of the day. This showed very well on and off for the next half an hour or so.

A few other migrants were seen in this area before dusk including 2 Whinchats, 2 Blackcap, a Chiff Chaff and a fine male Brambling. On the shoreline a Common Sandpiper was also a migrant.

So, in many ways, an excellent start to the trip.
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Old Wednesday 14th September 2011, 07:30   #2
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Good idea Stephen, wish we could do the same from foula!
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Old Wednesday 14th September 2011, 18:58   #3
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Fingers crossed for something wildly excitng for us to savour before the end of your trip Stephen. Good luck
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Old Wednesday 14th September 2011, 19:16   #4
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Thanks for the encouraging words Paul and Larry.

No megas today Larry but some interesting birds, will put something on here shortly.

Stephen
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Old Wednesday 14th September 2011, 20:03   #5
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Day 2 - 14th September

The winds sounded quite strong overnight and given they were from the north west I wasn't hopeful today, but there were a few bits to see.

Peter Flint had two Common Rosefinches in his garden during the morning. As is sometimes the way of these things I didn't see them until early evening, and then couldn't miss them as they seemed to follow me around.

In terms of other scarcities a single Lapland Bunting was in the north west, an area they often favour. Two Redpolls which were only seen in flight were presumably Common / Mealy Redpolls.

In the area behind the pool on Bruray I flushed a Grasshopper Warbler which hadn't read the textbooks, and instead of speeding off in a blur perched close to and called several times. This may sound really naive but I am not sure I have ever heard a Gropper call before, even though I have heard hundreds singing over the years. Later in the day it had got the hang of things and disappeared sharpish.

Otherwise whilst there was weren't a large number of migrants there was a decent variety. In a Shetland context Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler were perhaps the best. Otherwise there was a Redstart, 3 alba wagtails including a definite Pied, Garden Warbler, 3 Whinchats, Spotted Flycatcher, Lesser Whitethroat, c3 Willow Warblers and c7 Blackcaps.

Raptor interest unfortunately didn't include a Pallid Harrier, but there were single Merlin and Kestrel. In Skerries terms there is a good variety of waders on the island at the moment. A Wigeon was on the pool near the harbour a couple of times today.

Easterlies are forecast over the weekend, which would be great if they materialise.
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Old Thursday 15th September 2011, 19:47   #6
Larry Sweetland
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Sounds like an exciting place to be right now. Have you pretty much got the place to yourself?
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Old Thursday 15th September 2011, 19:59   #7
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Day 3 - 15th September

A Yellow-browed Warbler was around first thing, but not seen again. Otherwise the main scarce / semi-scarce interest was provided by buntings. There were at least 3 Lapland Buntings on the islands today, and a minimum of 15 Snow Buntings.

Many of the migrants from the last couple of days were still around, including the Redstart, Reed Warbler and 3 Whinchat. The Kestrel and Merlin were both still around. Waders included a Ruff which may have been overlooked previously, the Common Sandpiper and 16 Golden Plover.

The local children had taken a bird into care and advised us, it was a first year Meadow Pipit with no fat score. It had no obvious wing damage and when released it was able to fly a short distance, and was presumably just exhausted when picked up.

The forecast is still for easterlies of one kind or another for the next three days so something else should show up.
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Old Friday 16th September 2011, 19:58   #8
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Day 4 - 16th September

It was a bit disappointing today as the shift through southerly to south easterly winds suggested some migrants would arrive, but simply put they didn't.

The morning was enlivened by watching a group of dolphins feeding with attendant Gannets. They were rather distant but were probably White-sided Dolphin.

There were still at least ten Snow Buntings and at least one Lapland Bunting. Best of the rest, unless Paul Harvey and Rory Tallack who were in for the day had something, were Ruff, Lesser Whitethroat, Whinchat and Chiff Chaff.
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Old Saturday 17th September 2011, 20:11   #9
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Day 5 - 17th September

Quite an interesting day really. Early on there was little indication of new birds in, in fact
there was no indication of any new birds in a circuit of the houses and gardens and the iris bed. The Reed Warbler was seen again and a Grasshopper Warbler was behind the pool on Bruray, but could well have been the bird from a couple of days back.

There was a frustrating moment when a wagtail which was either Citrine or 'buzzy calliing' Yellow Wagtail flew overhead and continued into the distance. Hopefully we will find it tomorrow, but it may well be on Fetlar or the mainland by now.

We walked out to Mioness late morning and I suggested I would check the tideline on the way as it was sheltered. This reaped dividends as I flushed a Turtle Dove, a good bird on Skerries and a good bird anywhere these days. A pristine Red Admiral on the beach was presumably a migrant as there have been none on the island this week.

At Mioness there was clearly an arrival of migrants. Chief among these were 2 Yellow-browed and 2 Barred Warblers with Goldcrests, Blackcaps and a single Swallow. This concentration of birds wasn't apparent elsewhere on the island before or after and presumably the tip of the island was a refuge as the weather closed in. On the way back a drake Mallard was a real surprise on a small pool.

A major feature of the day was an obvious increase in raptors. By the end of the day we had confirmed at least seven - four Kestrels, two Peregrines and a Sparrowhawk. At least three of the Kestrels and one of the Peregrines were targetting the arrival of migrants at Mioness when we returned there late on. Not surprisingly there was less to see, but a Song Thrush was new for the trip.

Last edited by Stephen Dunstan : Saturday 17th September 2011 at 21:05.
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Old Sunday 18th September 2011, 19:20   #10
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Hi,

Nice idea, perhaps I can persuade one of our party to do a similar thing for our week starting 1st October.

Hope you get a few rarities in return for 'marooning' yourself on Out Skerries again, but disappointed you aren't there when we are this year. It was your Citrine Wag and Black-headed Bunt that got us across last year and gave us the PGTips.
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Old Sunday 18th September 2011, 19:58   #11
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Originally Posted by wheatearlp View Post
Hi,

Nice idea, perhaps I can persuade one of our party to do a similar thing for our week starting 1st October.

Hope you get a few rarities in return for 'marooning' yourself on Out Skerries again, but disappointed you aren't there when we are this year. It was your Citrine Wag and Black-headed Bunt that got us across last year and gave us the PGTips.
My Citrine, Mike et al's Black-headed Bunting. Mike's crewe will be there when you are. You staying at Rocklea?

Stephen
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Old Sunday 18th September 2011, 20:18   #12
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Day 6 - 18th September

There was some evidence of arrival overnight, particularly with four Reed Warblers in the iris bed. One of these had short looking primaries but couldn't be resolved. A Grasshopper Warbler on the ditches behind the pool may have been one previously seen there, but equally could have been a new arrival.

Small numbers of drift migrants continued to arrive until early evening including a Red-backed Shrike and more regular species such as Pied Flycatcher, Redstart and Tree Pipit.

What was presumed to be a Citrine Wagtail was seen in flight over the iris bed mid morning, calling several times. A flava wagtail was subsequently found elsewhere on the island giving harsh buzzing calls, and was thought likely to be the same bird.

The first Redwing of the autumn was noted and a Teal was new in. Grey Heron numbers are building up and up to five were seen together. Another Red Admiral was seen, and a Silver-Y was another migrant insect.
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Old Sunday 18th September 2011, 22:17   #13
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My Citrine, Mike et al's Black-headed Bunting. Mike's crewe will be there when you are. You staying at Rocklea?

Stephen
No, staying on mainland but will no doubt day-trip Skerries if there's something found. Otherwise we'll try and find our own somewhere around south mainland.

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Old Monday 19th September 2011, 21:10   #14
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Day 7 - 19th September

Late news from Sunday - a Wryneck was in one of the gardens briefly.

The conditions suggested some new birds might just come in. The only certain new birds however were two Reed Buntings and a Dunnock, species well worth recording on Shetland but not exactly scarce migrants.

Lingering migrants included around 10 Blackcaps, a couple of Song Thrushes, a Whinchat, a Tree Pipit, a Redstart, 1 Grasshopper Warbler, 2 Reed Warblers, the flava wagtail, a couple of alba wagtails, several Willow Warblers, a Chiff Chaff and a Swallow. Raptors had dropped away with just the Sparrowhawk and two of the Kestrels still in residence.

A snipe sp. seen twice early morning looked very interesting but unfortunately was lost from view the second time and could not be relocated.
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Old Tuesday 20th September 2011, 08:40   #15
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Hello Stephen

Really enjoying the daily reports but could you please add a quick summary of the weather conditions you've had each day - I don't trust the Met Office!

Best of luck for next few days,

cheers,

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Old Tuesday 20th September 2011, 21:10   #16
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Day 8 - 20th September

With a depletion of available birders and a brisk south westerly without rainfall it was quite possible there would be nothing to report today. Not quite.

A Yellow-browed Warbler was around the iris bed for much of the day. Of course this could be new in, but it seems more likely to be a bird that has been in for a few days and undetected. Certainly the Pied Flycatcher near the digs is the one from Sunday as it droops its right wing. Single Bramblings and Goldcrests on geos may well have been new birds.

Otherwise migrants still in situ included a Redstart, around 8 Blackcaps, 2 Reed Buntings, a Tree Pipit, Chiff Chaff and a couple of Willow Warblers. The only raptors seen today were two Kestrels, so hopefully the Sprawk has moved on as it has taken birds in the Rocklea garden.

As this might get a bit repetitive the next few days I will do a little bit on resident birds / Skerries generally for those who don't know the islands well. To kick off - the islands have a fairly pure Rock Dove population. I am told one bird doesn't look pure but the majority look like pure Rock Doves. If you are visiting the islands whilst on Shetland you can't really miss the Rock Doves as there are usually a couple on the shore on Bruray near the harbour and airstrip, but otherwise the area behind Rocklea and the kale yard, and the nearby cliffs, is the best bet for views of a flock of birds.

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Old Wednesday 21st September 2011, 19:40   #17
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Day 9 - 21st September

A challenging day to be birding in, with strong southerlies and often heavy rain until calmer conditions in the last hour before dusk.

Having not seen any Lapland Buntings since Saturday (I think) it was good to see at least one is still around. Coverage of higher ground also showed that 16 Golden Plover are still present, no Snow Buntings seen but presumably these are being overlooked as numbers should continue to increase for a while yet on previous form.

There appeared to be a further clear out of migrants but several species still remained. Best of these was the Pied Flycatcher near the digs, other species included Tree Pipit, Goldcrest, alba wagtail, Willow Warbler, Reed Bunting, Dunnock and Song Thrush with at least 4 Blackcap. Ironically after yesterday's comment I saw the 'impure' Rock Dove for the first time today.

In terms of species not recorded so far it is interesting to note that there have been no Wrens. Fair Isle Wren and St Kilda Wren have had a lot of publicity recently so it may surprise people to know that there are no breeding Wrens on Out Skerries, though locals have suspected occasional pairs in the past. In terms of what people would regard as 'garden birds' Blackbird is the only one which nests on Skerries.

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Old Thursday 22nd September 2011, 22:15   #18
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Day 10 - 22nd September

There were strong westerly winds, not a lot of use for anything other than American vagrants. Skerries isn't best placed for these, but the pipits will still be worth more scrutiny in coming days I guess.

The Yellow-browed Warbler near the iris bed remains, and has presumably been here for ten days now. Other passerine migrants included around six Blackcaps, the Tree Pipit an alba wagtail, a Willow Warbler and a couple of Song Thrushes. There is still at least one Lapland Bunting in the more remote areas, where a Merlin was also seen today. A group of 8 Teal were the only evidence of new movement.

This afternoon I was able to get a boat across to the uninhabited island of Grunay, thanks to generous friends on the island. The keepers of the lighthouse used to be based here, and the old lighthouse cottages whilst now in disrepair are still a bizarre sight with their late 70s decor and furnishing still intact in some places. There is also a poignant memorial to three RAF men who made an unsuccessful emergency landing here in the second world war having got from Norway with a damaged wing.

There are a couple of pools on Grunay bigger than anything on Housay and Bruray, so there is always a hope of something here not on the inhabited islands. Unfortunately today there were just a couple of Grey Herons and a couple of Redshank on them.
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Old Friday 23rd September 2011, 18:00   #19
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Day 11 - 23rd September

In terms of today's scarce birds some of you will already have seen the highlights as visiting birders must have put news out. The Yellow-browed Warbler remained for at least its eleventh day. There was a marked increase in Lapland Buntings, as far as I know no more than 16 together so I don't know if the 27 on the pagers is a combination of counts. Otherwise the Pied Flycatcher with the drooping wing remains.

More regular species included Tree Pipit, Whinchat, Dunnock, alba wagtail, c8 Blackcaps, Willow Warbler, Chiff Chaff, Goldcrest and the two Reed Buntings. Non passerines included the long staying male Ruff and a Whimbrel.

Curlew numbers have increased today and among them was a distinctive buff coloured bird. It will be interesting to see if this is seen elsewhere in the Northern Isles on passage. I finally saw an Otter for the first time this trip, swimming round the north of Housay.

I was talking to Edwin Tait about his ringing activities on the island today. If you visited Out Skerries in the last few years you will have seen the remains of his heligoland trap on the wall by the iris bed; he has recently dismantled this now. As well as good birds he trapped in there and mist netted (including when asked by visiting birders who had found something good) he also did some ringing by dazzling birds at night. Among the remarkable list of species he succeeded in ringing this way were Rough-legged Buzzard, Spotted Crake, Iceland Gull and Glaucous Gull.
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Old Saturday 24th September 2011, 20:00   #20
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Day 12 - 24th September

There was a large exodus of people today on account of a Matt Cardle gig in Lerwick, however Mike McKee has arrived so the number of birders was back up.

The overnight rain gave some hope of a new arrival, and it came in the form of a second Yellow-browed Warbler feeding among the lobster creels near the Post Office. The original bird remained in or near the iris bed for its twelfth day, quite a long stay now.

Otherwise it was very much as you were. There were 15 Lapland Buntings together on Bruray and other passerines included the Tree Pipit, Whinchat, Chiff Chaff, 2 Willow Warblers, around five Blackcaps, 3 Song Thrushes and 2 Reed Buntings. One of the Reed Buntings is tailless, it is still thought that this is one of the two birds here for the last few days which has survived a close shave with one of the island's cats. Mike had a single Snow Bunting on Mioness, for those who don't know accessing Mioness involves negotiating a chasm ('the Steig') and this is not for the feint hearted.

Non passerines included the long staying Ruff, at least one heron and a raptor which was heard only but was in the same area as yesterday's Merlin.

Continuing the footnotes about Out Skerries more generally some readers may not know that Bill Oddie made several visits to the island in the 1970s. These feature in a chapter of his book 'Follow That Bird', including the story of how he and a birding colleague accidentally set fire to the doctor's chalet. In terms of birding literature on Out Skerries the islands also feature in a chapter of 'Best Days With British Birds', but my copy isn't to hand so apologies for not being able to say who the author was.
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Old Sunday 25th September 2011, 19:57   #21
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Day 13 - 25th September

Mike found a Common Rosefinch in the Rocklea garden early morning, which gave some incentive to plug away in largely southerly winds. Overall though the evidence was that little had left and little had come in - most of the birds of the last couple of days were present and correct including the Whinchat, Dunnock, Reed Buntings, Willow Warbler, Chiff Chaff and at least one Song Thrush. At least 15 Lapland Buntings continued to be seen on the hills.

The situation with Yellow-browed Warblers was interesting. There was still a bird in the iris bed, but on closer look it was not the long stayer. It could be the bird that was at the lobster creels yesterday, perhaps it found the better habitat and sent the other bird packing!

The wind veered to south south east at times, and it was possible something new might drift in. Late afternoon as I left the digs after a break Mike called me over as he had just seen and photographed a 'Citrine calling' Yellow Wagtail which had no trace of yellow in its plumage. It was very skittish but over the next hour and a half we saw it on and off, including a surreal moment when it appeared on the road with two alba wagtails. Mike obtained some sound recordings, but it was quite windy and better quality recordings may be necessary. In any event, a most interesting bird.
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Old Monday 26th September 2011, 19:52   #22
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Day 14 - 26th September

Given that wagtails don't normally migrate at night and it chucked it down hopes were high that the monochrome Yellow Wagtail would linger, become less skittish and allow better sound recordings to be taken. Unfortunately there was no sign of it. Mike can't upload his pics but to give an idea here is a similar bird he photographed here in 2005:-

http://www.michaelmckee.co.uk/region...egion=Shetland

The Common Rosefinch remained near Rocklea, and there was once more a Yellow-browed Warbler in the iris bed. At least 15 Lapland Buntings are also still present. During the afternoon I located a locustella warbler in the ditch behind the pool. Mike wasn't far away so I fetched him and after a bit of hide and seek we were able to confirm the suspicion it was a Gropper and nothing more exotic.

A Chaffinch was new in today also. Presuambly lingering birds included around 7 Blackcaps, the Tree Pipit, 3 Reed Buntings, 2 Willow Warblers, Song Thrush and Goldcrest. A Merlin remains in the north east, and single Teal and Wigeon were seen as well as the normal Eiders.

Mike has never seen Otter on Skerries in several autumn visits. It was therefore somewhat embarrassing to tell him I had not only had another sighting but that it involved no fewer than four animals. I am sure he will connect in the next few days.

I am on the boat at 8 in the morning. If I see anything notable on the crossing I will post on here but otherwise thanks for looking, and thanks for the kind comments on the blog and privately. You can keep up to date with the rest of the autumn on Skerries at:-

http://www.michaelmckee.co.uk/twitter.html

Stephen

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Old Wednesday 28th September 2011, 12:52   #23
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Enjoyed reading this Stephen.

I think too many reports tend to focus on the highlights, and don't give the truer picture that it can be really hard work at times!
In recent years I have spent 3x 4 day breaks on Orkney/Shetland, and only had 1 or 2 days in total with a sniff of Easterlies.
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Old Wednesday 28th September 2011, 22:02   #24
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Thanks Peter.

For anyone interested there is a record shot of the monochrome Yellow Wagtail taken by Mike at:-

http://yfrog.com/j2qa0luj

Stephen
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Old Wednesday 28th September 2011, 22:28   #25
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Thanks Peter.

For anyone interested there is a record shot of the monochrome Yellow Wagtail taken by Mike at:-

http://yfrog.com/j2qa0luj

Stephen
Whoa! That really is an incredibly striking bird - cheers for the link, Stephen.
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