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Old Tuesday 18th April 2017, 07:50   #51
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A most engrossing narrative and fantastic photos......I'll be sad when your holiday is over
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Old Tuesday 18th April 2017, 13:14   #52
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Thanks very much lazydays for your very complimentary words! If's always hard to gauge the effect of one's writing, so it's very nice to hear it works for you.

For the next day I'd gone for a day's guided birding. This was agreed as a `Spanish-speaking' guide, but I was very lucky in that this turned out to be Byron (who also featured on Arjan Dwarshius' Big Year blog when he visited this location), whose English is more than adequate for these purposes. This is my second visit to South America, and I don't feel that confident with the local birds. With these worsening eye issues on top I felt that a day with somebody who knows his stuff could only be helpful.

Breakfast was at 6.00 and then Byron and I set off. The idea was to give me an overview of the area, but avoiding any really step/muddy paths because of the prevoiusly mentioned knee issues. There's a bit of light rain as we set off along the road, then turning onto the FACE trail to see what we can find. Byron has a scope, which certainly helped me a lot.

Byron's spotting ability is quite amazing - he ssems to be able to look and listen into all directions simultaneously. The first few birds aren't that exciting: Tropical Kingbird, Blue-necked and Golden Tanager, Blue-and-white Swallow, but then there's the first new bird, a Rufous-naped Greenlet. The rain peters out, which means I can stop worrying about keeping the camera dry. But for the most part this morning is entirely about looking for (and at) birds, and not photographing them.

There are more tanagers, Swallow and Palm, and flycatchers, such as Grey-capped, Social and Dusky-capped as well as a Brown-capped Vireo. Then a Blue-naped Chlorophonia, a [b]Black-billed Thrus[/B.

The birds keep coming. There's a Common Tody-Flycatcher, a Russet-backed Oropendola and a Chestnut-bellied Seedeater as well as a Yellow-browed Sparrow. We also note in passing a Smooth-billed Ani and a Roadside Hawk.

We return to the road and get to a grassy patch where Byron wants to show me a particularly secretive bird. I'm advised to stand very still in a particular spot and not move. Byron puts down a speaker and plays a call. We can see just the tiniest bits of movements occsionally in the grass, but for the most part I can't make out a bird. Byron is very insisten that I will see this bird and eventually his hard work pays off and I get a glimpse of the Grey-breasted Crake he has been calling in.

I note that Byron is very patient (with me as well as with the birds) and in the course of the morning he shows himself to be not only a great birder and guide, but also a very friendly guy who is very concerned for his clients, and considerate and thoughtful beyond his young years (I work in higher education so I like to think I know what I speak of). He is a local who got into birding via Wild Sumaco, where he is currently employed, but he's surely devleoping the skills that will allow him to become independent from this location.

We branch onto another trail and Byron keeps doing his stuff. There's a Wing-barred Piprites and a Plain Ant-vireo and a Red-headed Barbet.

We stop off at some hummingbird feeders in the forest and sit down for a moment to see what will come our way here. These feeders attract birds that don't come to the ones near the lodge. A Green Hermit isn't one of those, but it isn't on the feeders very often so it's good to see it here. A Gould's Jewelfront comes to perch in a bush. It's a bit dark here for photos but I persevere.

Then a Violet-fronted Brilliant comes in to lead me and my camera a merry dance as it darts around a small patch of flowers. I think Byron must be having a good laugh! The bird so quickly moves from one flower to another that the moment I raise the camera it already moves to a different part of the patch. You can see below that I didn't really manage too well with this one, but it only lasted for a few seconds.

There are some of the hummingbirds also common at the feeders near the lodge and I won't list those here. Other species we do see here are Gorgetted Woodstar, Black-throated Brilliant and Fork-tailed Woodnymph and Booted Racket-tails fo the Eastern Andes subspecies, but I later discover that the last three of these do occasionally visit the other feeders as well.

While we still sit there An orange red bird flies by quite closely along the path we were on, leaving me no time to aim the camera. The first timeI've seen all of an Andean Cock-of-the-Rock instead of bits and pieces. Wow! I find out later that there has been a male bird that is quite bold.

We continue on through the forest and find an Olivacwous Woodcreeper and an Ecuadorian Tyrannulet and Byron works quite hard for scope views of a Coppery-chested Jacamar. Then there's a Whitel-backed Fire-eye to be admired, if briefly.

When we get to the end of the trail we're at the bottom of the road, and we slowly walk up the road back towards the lodge. We find two Golden-olive Woodpeckers excavating a cavity along the road. We're back around twelvish. I make sure to drink some water, and then it's time for lunch. This time I'm not alone - an American birder who travels with a guide has arrived. But we sit at different tables and don't say much to each other beyond `hello'.


Andrea

Gould's Jewelfront
Violet-fronted Hummingbird
again
once more - I should have zoomed out, there must was no time
Golden-olive Woodpecker
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Old Tuesday 18th April 2017, 13:43   #53
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During the lunch break I spend some time around the hummingbird feeders with my camera. I only have two more days here and want to make the most of the opportunity and the nice weather.

I work out that some of the birds like sitting under the leaves of a small tree that also holds some of the hummingbird feeders. A bit of experimenting shows that these birds are extremely confiding and I can stand right up next to the feeders, or under the tree, and the birds will still come in, or stay sitting where they are. Certainly the numerous Brown Violetears do more to disturn all the other birds than my presence does.

Light is a bit difficult under the tree, and my technique does improve over time, but here are my efforts from that session.

Andrea

two Violetears squaring off
Rufous-vented Whitetip - not too common here
Sparkling Violetear justifying its name
Wire-crested Thorntail (female)
and the male - not my best photo but one sees that the name is justified
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Old Thursday 20th April 2017, 16:46   #54
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AFter a somewhat extended break for lunch Byron and I got together again for the second part of my guided day here. We met up near the hummingbird feeders and Byron spotted a new bird before we had started to move off. A Golden-eyed Flowerpiercer was busy picking berries from a bush which allowed for some photographs to be taken. Levely little bird! Byron also spots another Coppery-chested Jacamar skulking in the forest, and this one is close enough for a (not very good) photo.

When we came onto the road we turned left this time. There is forest right up to the road here and the road allows spotting birds that fly over, and generally giving a larger field of view. A parade of tanagers was spotted: Paradise, Golden, Spotted and Swallow made the start. We found another Gilded Barbet, Slaty-capped Flycatcher and also a Slate-throated Whitestart and a Grey-mantled Wren. I'm amazed about the number of species for which Byron manages scope views, given that all these birds are feeding and consequently moving busily around.

A Marble-faced Bristle Tyrant is added to our slowly increasing list of flycatchers. We meet the other pair of guide-and-client along the road but overtake them fairly quickly, since Byron has another specific target in mind. Before we get there we find some of the more common birds as we leave the forsted bit behind: Russet-collared Sparrow, House Wren, Thrush-like Wren (both new for the trip) and Chestnut-bellied Seedeater are all seen.

Another sighiting of Golden-olive Woodpecker is soon followed, rather more excitingly, by a Yellow-tufted, and above us by Chestnut-collared Swifts. Then we reach a grassy area where Byron knows to find the second rallid for the day, a Blackish Rail is rather less concerned with playing hard to get than this morning's crake. I think this was also the place where I saw the trip's only Bananaquit, as well as Southern Rough-winged Swallows and Chestnut-vented Conebill.

We turn around and head in the direction of the lodge again, but the afternoon is far from over. We find a Grey-chinned Hermit and Blue-fronted Lancebill visiting some raodside flowers and a Rufous-vented Whitetip is also seen, as well as Napo Sabrewing, a species I later also find on the hummingbird feeders.

We're now back in the forest, and Byron finds us an Ornate Flycatcher which is lovely to look at and soon after a White-crowned Manakin. It seems that there's something to look at every other moment! At some point we hear a Speckled Chachalaca, and a Plumbeous Pigeon is noted.

At sme point we meet up with the other two and we're in a flock of birds that seem to be everywhere. There's now so much that it becomes hard to decide what to look at! But apparently food is plenty here and the birds linger for a little while. Lots of tanagers: Saffron-crowned, Magpie, Paradise, White-lined, Bay-headed, Blue-necked, Beryl-spangled, Golden-collared and Black-capped, as well as Purple Honeycreeper, lack-faced Dacnis. A Brown-capped Vireo as well as Bronze-green and Orange-bellied Euphonias are also part of the flock.

In this area we also see an Olive-chested Flycatcher,a Streaked Xenops and a Buff-fronted Foliagegleaner and a Lefresnaye's Piculet.

Then we have a very special visitor: The same Andean Cock-of-the Rock we saw fly by this morning actually pauses at the edge of the forest, looks at us for a moment, and then flies across the road. The moment was gone all too quickly and I managed just a handful of photos - no time to play with settings.

There's a Maroon-tailed Parakeet flying by and there's a Squirrel Cuckoo. Andy, the other guest, misses a Grey-headed Kite and Byron manages to call it back. It lands in a dead tree just across from the lodge for a little while, allowing nice scope views.

While we are in this relatively open bit I have a lesson in swift identification, until I feel comfortable with the Chestnut-collared, White-collared and Grey-rumped Swifts in the flock not too far above us.
A small flock of Chestnut-fronted Macaws fly by.

We walk past the lodge to a place where there's a window that allows uas to look into the forest and Byron tries to see what else he can do here. A Montane Foliage Gleaner, a Golden-collared Honeycreeper and a very distant Subtropical Cacique are our last rewards. As we go back to the lodge we see one more new bird for the day, a not very exciting Blue-grey Tanager

What an amazing day! I thank Byron for his efforts, and he's a bit embarrassed by it all.

The light is rather nice when we get back and I try for a few more pictures around the hummingbird feeders before it's time ofr a shower and dinner.

Andrea

Goppery-chested Jacamar
Andean Cock-of-the Rock
again
these were sitting on the wood of the lodge - colourful!
Golden-eyed Flowerpiecer
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Old Thursday 20th April 2017, 16:54   #55
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A few from the hummingbird feeders in the late afternoon.

Golden-tailed Sapphire illustrating its name

Booted Racket-tail - note that the Easter subspecies has buff coloured `boots', rather than the white ones seen on the birds at Tandayapa

trying a head study of a Wire-crested Thorntail - unfortunately the light is almost gone

one of the ubiquitous Brown Violetears
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Old Friday 21st April 2017, 11:38   #56
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Over night it became increasingly clear that I had done something to offend the knee that has some previous injury damage. When the morning came round it was stiff and not at all amenable to teh idea ot bending when straight, or straightening when previously bent.

The original plan had been to explore the reserve for myself today, but that would have to sait until I could actually walk reasonably well once again. There's an umpeded view today so I take some landscape pictures, and I watch from a distance as the local group of tamarins (Napo, recently split from Black-mantled), get their daily portion of bananas.

I notice a Yellow-tufted Woodpecker in the same group of trees. Indeed, these trees are worth keeping an eye on, it turns out. Birds there are a bit far for photos but yield perfectly good binocular views. Jonas comes by and tells me he's found some Lefresnaye's Piculets excavating a hole, so that gives me a target which doesn't require much of a walk. Unfortunately the hole is a bit awkward in terms of getting a good angle on it.

Then I concentrate on the hummingbird feeders for a while - this allows me to sit down at times, and doesn't require too much hobbling around. I spot one bird that I haven't seen often, and I only manage to get pictures on one fo the feeders for this one: a Napo Sabrewing. The camera seems to want to focus on the nearest edge of the feeder which gives it a nice clear line, rather than on the bird (even if the centre focus point is on the bird), but I don't discover this until I'm at home.

Eventually I decide to go for a stroll to see just how incapacitated I am. The weather is very pleasant, sunny but not hot. It's mid morning now and I don't find a lot of birds. But for photography other subjects are always a possibility.

Andrea

View from the lodge
Lefresnaye's Piculet
Napo Sabrewing
again
flower
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Old Friday 21st April 2017, 11:43   #57
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If you're mostly keen to find out about birds, please skip this post! I end up coming back with pictures of plant details and butterflies.

Andrea
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Old Friday 21st April 2017, 12:14   #58
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Walking very slowly on not challenging terrain is not too bad, but other than a few butterflies I didn't find too many birds. Still, a Northern White-crowned Tapaculo, a Blue-black Grosbeak and another Golden-olive Woodpecker are not to be sniffed at, even if they didn't want to pose for photos.

I get back aruond noon. After lunch and there's some excitement. A snake has been spotted on the tiles and Jonas is keen to catch it so that the biology students at the research station can see it. He can't decide whether this is a species of coral snake or one that imitates same. It exudes a smell that makes him think it is probably the former. After the guests have had their chance to take photos the snake is caught quickly and without fuss (to be released again later).

I spend some more time around the lodge, mostly near the hummingbird feeders, and am rewarded with a decent look at an Ecuadorian Piedtail. Now that I know the common species well I keep a particular lookout for the rarer ones. There are so many feeders all along the length of the main buidling though that it's just not possible to see everything that arrives. Also, I don't really want a lot of pictures of birds on feeders.

I decide to try for some pictures of birds hovering before they zoom in on a feeder, but without the flash setup this is so much harder! Even if one manages to point the camera at an actual bird (they only hover very briefly) it has a very tough time focussing under these circumstances.

The largest common hummingbird here is Many-spotted. These are not particularly aggressive, but they also don't take any of the other hummingbirds seriously as a threat - if one of those wants to go to a feeder than it will!

Then it starts to rain, first a shower or two, and then so heavily that I decide that I may as well retire for the time being. In the end it keeps raining until after sunset.


Andrea

snake
Sparkling Violetear trying to impress the world with its display
Green Hermit
Many-spotted Hummingbird (taken the next day)
Female Golden-tailed Sapphire - for some reason I don't have very many pictures of these, also taken next day.
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Old Friday 21st April 2017, 14:20   #59
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Some - great photos, that flash set up really allows for some lovely action shots
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Old Saturday 22nd April 2017, 19:53   #60
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My last day here. The knee is a bit better, but the weather isn't. It
has rained most of the night and the world is quite wet. While there
are some showers through the morning it's dry enough in between to
allow for some bird watching.

I stake out the hummingbird feeders and the tall trees in the background. In the course of the day I see Chestnut-fronted Macaws, Blue-headed Parrots and White-eyed and Maroon-tailed Parakeet. Fairly early in a couple of Yellow-throated Toucans fly in to feed on some fruit. A pity those trees aren't a bit closer! A Squrrel Cuckoo pretends to be something more exciting.

I also see another Red-headed Barbet and the Yellow-eyed Flowerpiercer makes another brief appearance. I find what I htink is a spinetail, but I only get to see small pieces of the bird through the foliage.

Then it starts to rain in earnest and I retire to the lounge where I have a look at the field guides and old National Georgraphic and other nature-related magazines. It's still raining at lunch time. The view is completely gone, the clouds very low and threatening.

Eventually it brightens up and I move outside again. The tamarins are very close to the lodge, and Jonas says there's a neighbouring troop straying onto their territory. This makes for some good photo opportunities. We stand and watch to see whether there will be any actual encournters between the two groups, but they seem content with staring intently in one direction.

The tamarins are all over one of the trees that holds the hummingbird feeders and Jonas comments that he isn't sure what he's going to do if/when they ever figure out there's all this sugar water there waiting for them. Eventually it all calms down and the tamarins move off again. Clearly they're not scared of pepole, but they usually keep their distance apart from the time when they get their bananas in the morning.

Time to indulge in a bit more hummingbird photography.

Andrea

Yellow-throated Toucan
Napo Tamarin
something's afoot!
Many spotted Hummingbird stretching
Wire-crested Thorntail
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Old Saturday 22nd April 2017, 20:04   #61
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A few more hummingbird shots from that afternoon, with some comments.

Fork-tailed Woodnymph is a species I didn't see very often, and even less so away from a feeder, so here are two shots I manaed that afternoon.

Wire-crested Thorntails are very common, the commonest small hummingbird around. Finding them hiding away in one of the trees that also hosted a bunch of feeders wasn't too hard, but they tended to move a lot. Just when one had discovered one, positioned oneself to avoid too many leaves in the way, it would dart off. When the light hits the head of the bird just right it the green really glows!

Rufous-vented Whitetips are reasonably common, but again not too many chances to photograph them away from the feeders.

Andrea
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Old Saturday 22nd April 2017, 20:26   #62
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Some of the species I only managed on the feeders.

Black-throated Brilliant is a reasonably frequent visitor, but I never found one perched on something natural.

Violet-headed Hummingbird I only have the one shot of. Not common at all.

I think I have mentioned other species that I saw there in the course of the text.

Right at the end of the afternoon I had the bright idea that since the birds don't mind me coming reallyclose to the feeders I could try headshots while they're on the feeder, which would allow me to cut off the artificial perch and just keep the bird's head. The hummingbird feeders area ll attached on strings so they move quite a bit, and, of course, one needs to take the picture when the bird raises it head rather than when it is drinking, so this was tougher than I would have thought. It was also easy to get below the minimal focus distance of the lens.

By then the light was going, and the background is very dark and looks artificial. These shots remind me a bit of a rogue's gallery. More in the next post as well.

Andrea

Black-throated Brilliant
Violet-headed hummingbird
Golden-tailed Sapphire
Wire-crested Thorntail
Brown Violetear
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Old Saturday 22nd April 2017, 21:00   #63
hampers
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Some of the species I only managed on the feeders.

Black-throated Brilliant is a reasonably frequent visitor, but I never found one perched on something natural.

Violet-headed Hummingbird I only have the one shot of. Not common at all.

I think I have mentioned other species that I saw there in the course of the text.

Right at the end of the afternoon I had the bright idea that since the birds don't mind me coming reallyclose to the feeders I could try headshots while they're on the feeder, which would allow me to cut off the artificial perch and just keep the bird's head. The hummingbird feeders area ll attached on strings so they move quite a bit, and, of course, one needs to take the picture when the bird raises it head rather than when it is drinking, so this was tougher than I would have thought. It was also easy to get below the minimal focus distance of the lens.

By then the light was going, and the background is very dark and looks artificial. These shots remind me a bit of a rogue's gallery. More in the next post as well.

Andrea

Black-throated Brilliant
Violet-headed hummingbird
Golden-tailed Sapphire
Wire-crested Thorntail
Brown Violetear
I like these head shots!

Phil
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Old Sunday 23rd April 2017, 12:24   #64
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The next day was about getting back to Quito. The driver originally booked by Tropical Birding for this transfer had cried off, but alternative arrangements were made and Jonas informed me that he would be taking me back.

He said he had to return to Quito in any case. The previous evening I'd enjoyed a very nice dinner with him and a couple from the States, the female half of which had previously worked at the lodge (she is Ecuadorian).

With Jonas the drive back to Quito was very entertaining since we found a lot of random comments to talk about, and there was still a little bit of birding involved. We stopped off at a well-known roadside roosting spot for Blackish Nighjar, we also saw Cliff Flycatchers and as we reached the high Andes, we stopped again for a moment to see Andean Condor and Variable Hawk fly over. My jinx on ducks held as we stopped off at a lake that was devoid of birds.

Jonas dropped me off at the airport and that was the end of a very enjoyable trip.

It seems to me that Ecuador should be doable independently (for those a bit intrepid than myself) since the it's a very stable friendly country with comparatively good infrastructure. The roads are variable. The biggest problems are landslides, and Jonas had some scathing comments about the choice of sighting of some pylons for a new power line. If a landsclide does occur then it can take days for the raod to be in a state to allow passing the spot (and apparently this was in part the reason for why there weren't more guests around during my visit).

The range of landscapes within a comparatively short distance is very good, giving a variety of habitats to be explored. A lot of the accessible areas of forest are remnant and privately owned, so vistors' fees are something to be factored in (but I don't know how high those charges are). The Amazon basin requires staiyng at one of the lodges, but Sani, for example, has a camping option. (There are also quite a lot of lodges along the Napo river these days, and I think some of those are directed at tourists that just want to `experience the rain forest'. Maybe some of those are less pricey and still allow for good habitats for those happy to guide themselves?)

For those interested in having a go at the flash photography setup that produced those photos (and who can afford and don't mind an organized trip) I can certainly recommend the Tropical Birding photo tour where this is a staple of activities on offer. All their arrangements worked impeccably well, and Pablo was a very knowledgeable, friendly, and easy-going guy who knows what photographers need on their trips.

I certainly thorougly enjoyed myself and can well imagine returning some day (but there are so many other tempting places that I haven't visited yet.)

Andrea

Some more hummingbird headshots With these short distances involved (and the need to have the lens wide open due to impending darkness) the depth of field is incredibly shallow. For this reason the side-on shots work best.

Golden-tailed Sapphire female
Fork-tailed Woodnymph
Booted Racket-tail female
Wire-crested Thorntail female
again
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Old Sunday 23rd April 2017, 12:31   #65
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Last few

Rufous-vented Whitetip
again
Golden-tailed Sapphire showing the odd effect one sometimes get from blue hummingbird plumage and the shallow depth of field
Booted Racket-tail female
Blackish Nightjar
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Old Sunday 23rd April 2017, 13:51   #66
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Thank you have enjoyed the read.

Phil
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Old Tuesday 25th April 2017, 04:18   #67
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Thank you for such a wonderful report! Much food for thought here. I definitely want to do the eastern slope soon! Without as much rain as you experienced, if that's possible!
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Old Tuesday 25th April 2017, 20:51   #68
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Thank you have enjoyed the read.

Phil
Agreed.
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Old Wednesday 26th April 2017, 12:51   #69
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Many thanks for an excellent report and an outstanding collection of photos.

Cheers
Mike
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Old Wednesday 26th April 2017, 18:08   #70
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Thanks all for the positive feedback. If anybody would like to ask about some detail I haven't given, please feel free.

Andrea
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