Masons and Miners

  • May 20, 2017 2:13 pm

Just a quick update from me, Spring is in full swing now here in South Norfolk. Blue tit’s are nesting in the box on the back of the house, and the Hawthorn hedge at the bottom of the garden was in magnificient full bloom until the rains came over the last two days. Every year I’m fascinated by our wild Red Mason Bees, which have been using the bee nesters I installed on the east facing side of the house for several years now. They are solitary bees, each one creating an individual nest, but they come in great numbers to use the bee nesters now. Starting from around 8 bees when we first moved here to far too many to count now is fantastic to see as they are such important pollinators. I wonder if the neighbours either side are wondering why their apple trees have been producing such vast amounts of fruit over the last few years? I love listening to the constant hum of the bees going back and forth to their nests, and occasionally having a quick peek down one of the tubes to admire the pile of glorious yellow pollen that the bee has accumulated. The females are busy right now, each one provisioning their nest with pollen collected from the surrounding gardens, their rufous fur covered with sunshine yellow, as if they had been dipped in lemon sherbert. A few weeks ago though, the females were still tucked safely inside, and the newly emerged males were vying for the best spot, waiting for the girls to appear. I took this photo of a male waiting inside the nesting tube, warming himself in the early Spring sunshine.

New for this year in the garden are the Mining bees. Much like the Mason bees, they are harmless solitary bees, and great pollinators of course too. As the name suggests, instead of nesting in holes in masonry, these little bees dig their own nest chambers underground, often resulting in a little hill of soil in the lawn with a hole in the middle of around 4mm diameter. These little bees are only about 8-11mm in length and prefer nesting in well drained soil. They are a little shyer than the Mason bees, retreating into their nest when you wander past, but with a little patience I was able to photograph this Early Mining bee basking in the sun at the entrance to her nest.

Although photography is my medium of choice I do occassionally dabble in video too, and this year I was able to film a male mason bee emerging from the nester for the first time. You can take a look at that video here: https://youtu.be/FsDcjPGzLFU

 

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The Murmuration

  • March 20, 2017 9:08 pm

You may have noticed from my Facebook page that I have had the most amazing luck to find a Starling murmuration on my way home from work. If you’ve never witnessed a murmuration before, I strongly suggest you go and see one next Winter as it is one of the most enthralling spectacles in the natural world.

Over the last couple of months I’ve been trying to get some photos, which has not been that easy, but here are the results!

I first witnessed the murmuration in February just as my journey home from work was beginning to lighten and despite the stormy skies a huge flock of Starlings swirled above the dreary grey landscape. As they fought the wind and chased the clouds I tried in the failing light to grab a photo, and this was the result: The Storm and The Swarm:

I was worried the flock would move on in the ferocious storms, but they remained, and in a break in the terrible weather I managed to get something a little clearer.

In the following weeks the flock grew larger, and on one particularly windy evening I witnessed part of the flock be blown across the treetops, dusting the dark clouds with pepper as the birds were scattered and harrassed by the gale.

Fortunately calmer weather followed and gave me some better opportunities. To watch thousands of birds twisting and turning in unison is truly breathtaking, and even when they simply sway back and forth across the sunset it is utterly hypnotising, and rather additictive watching and trying to photograph them.

But when a predator arrives on the scene, the flock cuts in two, twisting into impossible shapes to avoid and confuse their assailant. Like a shoal of fish the birds move in complete synchonicity, flashing black, grey, and gold as the setting sun catches their feathers as they swirl through the sky.

As the evenings grew lighter I found the birds gathering before taking to the skies. They perched together in the very tops of the trees, weighing down the branches, waiting for the right moment.

Such a strange sight!

These pre-murmuration gatherings seemed to happen in a different location every evening. One night I found them much closer to the road, so I stopped to watch, and listen to them. The sound was incredible, the noise of a thousand voices, chattering, chittering together, filling the air with such energy. Then, in a single breath, hush descends through the flock in a wave. The world seems to stop in a silent, pregnant pause, holding it’s breath. Then together, the birds lift to the sky with a rush of beating wings, the swoosh of air through feathers as they swish upwards and away towards the roost.

Waiting:

Leaving:

It was fascinating to watch these birds, so in tune with each other that they seem to act as a single entity, how to they know when to lift off together? How do they fly in such close formation without crashing?

My final image is probably one of my favourites. That moment when they all rise into the sky together is so spectacular, the trees seem to be adorned with a corona of birds, just for a fraction of a second.

I did also manage to get a short video too, take a look here to view: https://youtu.be/5AOPRQW5Z0U

 

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Bushy Park, London

  • February 26, 2017 7:33 pm

A squadron of green arrows cuts through the blue of the sky, noisy screeches rain down from these lime feathered parakeets. It seems so exotic, and we gawp in touristy awe, but there’s a delight in seeing a parrot fly free when previously I’ve only ever seen them caged. No, I’m not on a foreign holiday, though it suddenly feels like it, we are in our capital city, visiting my lovely brother-in-law, who kindly takes us to visit Bushy Park. I’ve never seen (or heard!) so many parakeets before, but they are surprisingly camera shy, apart from the odd group flying over in formation, they stick to the treetops, patrolling the upper branches.

Our first stop is the lake, where many people feed the ducks, and in amoungst the Mallards we also find some Red-crested Pochard, a handsome, if non-native duck with a striking russet crest, and a brilliant red bill.

Red-crested pochard, Netta rufina, Bushy Park, London

There are Tufted ducks too, lovely little ducks, black and white at first glance, but with a gorgeous purple sheen in the right light.

Tufted duck, Aythya fuligula, male, Bushy Park, London

Keeping the waterfowl company were lots of Black-headed gulls, some of them already starting to gain their breeding plumage in the warmth of the city.

Black-headed gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus, perched on wooden post Bushy Park, London

The park is well known for its herds of Red and Fallow deer, and we quickly spot two Fallow bucks casually strolling down the path. Although very used to people, these deer have a wildness about them, they are not friendly like the Sika deer we saw in Nara, Japan. We remain at a wary distance, although other people attempt to get closer, alarmingly so as one parent attempts to introduce their young child to a huge Red deer stag, still with full antlers. The deer continues to graze, but a little shake of the head is enough to make the people retreat to a more sensible distance. The deer are wary too, a loose French bulldog sends one of the Fallow bucks pronking away into the bracken with tail raised, wild instinct remembering the wolf.

It’s lovely too see and study them this closely though, deer of all species have a very majestic air about them, especially the handsome Reds.

Red deer, Cervus elaphus, stag, male, close up, Bushy Park, London,

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Red deer, Cervus elaphus, stag, male, close up, Bushy Park, London,

The Fallow deer are smaller with palmate, flattened antlers. We later found the rest of the Fallow herd, as the light was fading, which contained white coated animals, as well as individuals that were almost black, the Fallow deer being highly variable in colour. These two bucks were clearly used to posing for people!

Fallow deer, Dama dama, buck, male, backlit in evening light, Bushy Park, London.

Fallow deer, Dama dama, buck, male, two in evening light, Bushy Park, London.

Fallow deer, Dama dama, buck, male, backlit in evening light, Bushy Park, London.

It was inspiring to visit a slice of the wild in the middle of the city, were it not for the hum of traffic, you could easily have been in the middle of the countryside. Good too, to see so many people out and enjoying it, a very special place.

 

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Blog catch up time

  • February 1, 2017 10:07 pm

I realise I’ve really neglected my blog recently, instead I’ve just been adding recent photos to my Facebook page, but I’ve been missing writing, so it’s time for a quick update. Since my last blog in late Summer I continued photographing the bees, and had the pleasure of photographing this beautiful Common Carder bee, a species I had previously overlooked, but one that proved very photogenic. I hope to continue with the bee photography this year, once the weather gets warmer of course!

September - Common Carder Bee

In November I visited the fine city of Norwich to catch up with the wonderful Waxwings, a rather irregular Winter visitor from Scandinavia, always a real treat to see these punky birds with their stunning plumage and beautiful bell like trilling call. They are still around in a few places so watch out for them near any berry bushes you might find.

November - Waxwing

In December during a quick visit to the coast I found this lovely Grey seal, who was gently rolling down the sloping sand of the beach with each sleepy breath, rather comical but very peaceful to watch!

December - Grey Seal

Just lately I’ve been back on my local patch over at Redgrave and Lopham Fen, the Bearded Reedlings seem to have done very well this past year and there are lots around. After many years of trying I’ve finally started to get some nice images of them, so I’m really chuffed, it’s a real privilege to photograph these shy birds.

 

BeardedTit220117DM50412

The Roe deer are still around, and I had a wonderful chance encounter with this handsome Roe buck, notice his antlers are now in velvet.

Roedeer290117DM5076

Thank you all for reading and for your continued support, I really appreciate it!

 

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Honeybees in the pink

  • September 3, 2016 6:10 pm

Bees are a real running theme for me this year, I just can’t resist the challenge of photographing these beautiful creatures. But they really are tricky to take pictures of. They are constantly moving, even when lapping the nectar from my Sedum plant in the garden, and in macro photography even the tiniest movements make all the difference. They really are fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. But it’s a pleasure really, to study these gorgeous glowing marmalade orange insects going about their business.

Honey bee, Apis mellifera, feeding on sedum, Norfolk, August, UK

Honey bee, Apis mellifera, feeding on sedum, Norfolk, August, UK

Honey bee, Apis mellifera, feeding on sedum, Norfolk, August, UK

The Honeybees arrive in the garden later in the day than the larger Bumblebees, so during an early start I found some other insects to photograph, like this young Green Shield Bug, which was lurking on my rose bush.

Green Shield Bug, Palomena prasina, young, on rose leaf, garden, Autumn, Norfolk

This odd and tiny little creature is a Mint Moth, which normally flutters around the Marjoram in the border, but I found it sunning itself on the Sedum before the bees arrived.

Mint Moth, Pyrausta aurata, on sedum, garden, Autumn, Norfolk

Honey bee, Apis mellifera, feeding on sedum, Norfolk, August, UK

You know you’ve been out in the sun for too long when you start to recognise individual bees!

 

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Yellow and Green

  • August 2, 2016 8:50 pm

Oh the exquisite British Summer, hot, sunny and humid for a week or two then back to the dreary drizzle of rain. The slugs in my garden are alarmingly huge this year, and they have eaten their way through most of my bee friendly flowers, but the little patch of Golden Rod I’ve left is still living and attracting hoverflies and honey bees like this one. Such handsome glowing golden creatures and vital pollinators.

Honey bee, Apis mellifera, feeding on Golden Rod, garden, Norfolk, July, Summer

My local common has a fantastic array of wildflowers however,  perhaps the dry sandy breckland soil helps to control those slugs. Beautiful blue harebells nodding amongst the grass, tall purple flowered thistles attracting Bumblebees and the yellow suns of Ragwort glowing alongside the path. Highly toxic, Ragwort is normally pulled up, but here some is left for the marvellous Cinnabar moth caterpillars which feast upon the poisonous plant, making themselves unpalatable to predators as a method of defence. These smart caterpillars in their stripy jumpers warn of their distastefulness with their stunning black and yellow colouration.

Cinnabar moth caterpillar, Tyria jacobaeae, feeding on Ragwort, Norfolk, July, Summer

Cinnabar moth caterpillar, Tyria jacobaeae, feeding on Ragwort, Norfolk, July, Summer

Cinnabar moth caterpillar, Tyria jacobaeae, feeding on Ragwort, Norfolk, July, Summer

Cinnabar moth caterpillar, Tyria jacobaeae, feeding on Ragwort, Norfolk, July, Summer, Hoverfly on flower

 

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Japan – Part 3

  • July 9, 2016 3:42 pm

The final part of my Japanese wildlife blog focuses on the bird life of Kyoto Imperial Palace Park. Kyoto is so different compared to the neat, reserved, business city of Tokyo, it’s more vibrant, and full of temples with little green spaces tucked in everywhere. Down by the river, Grey Herons, Little Egrets and Great White Egrets patrol the shallow waters. Large shadows lurk beneath, curving carp winding themselves slowly around the rocks. Eastern Spot-billed Ducks (Anas zonorhyncha) dabble at the waters edge, rather plain and brown at first glance, but a closer looks reveals an attractive cream eye stripe, a pretty little duck. Walking along the concrete footpath alongside the gently flowing waters I’m amazed to see a large raptor circling overhead, a Black-eared Kite (Milvus lineatus). It glides up to perch on a roof top, surveying it’s urban territory. Back home this is how our Red Kites used to be seen, back when they were common and un-persecuted, cleaning up scraps in our cities.

I visited the Kyoto Imperial Palace Park for my final photography session, it was hot and intensely humid, the air thick and uncomfortably close. I headed over to a little stream, and found some birds drinking and cooling off. Overhead the familiar ‘zip-zip-zip’ calls of a group of Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus), the adults bringing the youngsters down to drink.

Long-tailed tit, Aegithalos caudatus, juvenile, in cherry tree, Kyoto Imperial Palace Park, Japan

Although incredibly neat and tidy, the park also has areas where the grass grows a little longer around the huge old trees. In a pine tree I find a juvenile White-cheeked Starling (Sturnus cineraceus), just like our own Starling, they are highly social, feeding together on the ground in just the same manner. The adult birds are pied black and white, with white cheeks as the name suggests and a vivid yellow bill. We saw them going to roost near the station too, a noisy flock murmurating around the rooftops, just like their European cousins, then waterfalling down into the trees outside the station as night fell.

White-cheeked Starling, Sturnus cineraceus, juvenile perched on pine tree, Kyoto Imperial Palace Park, Kyoto, Japan

Then the bird I’ve been waiting for. Regular readers (thank you!) will know just how much I love our sadly declining European Turtle Dove. Well, Japan has it’s own version, the Oriental Turtle Dove (Streptopelia orientalis). By contrast this bird is common, strolling boldly around the parks in a way that our native Turtle Dove cannot. There are subtle differences between the two closely related species, the oriental dove is darker, it’s feathers a deeper browner hue, and it’s larger, bigger overall and not quite as sleek and slim as our own. It’s call is very different, a gentle cooing very similar to a Collard Dove, nothing like the musical purring of our European dove. To me it was stunning to see them, so many, so common, so relaxed. It was a delight to watch eight of these beautiful birds forging in the deep shade of the old trees, a pleasure to see a species doing well, but with a twinge of sadness remembering that back home, our own beautiful dove is having such hard time.

Oriental Turtle Dove, Streptopelia orientalis, feeding in long grass, Kyoto Imperial Palace Park, Kyoto, Japan

Oriental Turtle Dove, Streptopelia orientalis, standing in grass, Kyoto Imperial Palace Park, Kyoto, Japan

Oriental Turtle Dove, Streptopelia orientalis, bathing in stream, Kyoto Imperial Palace Park, Kyoto, Japan

Taking a break in the marginally cooler shade of the cherry trees, a tiny movement catches my eye. Olive green and difficult to spot amongst the foliage, a flash of intense yellow, and then finally in my viewfinder, a startling white eye-ring. This is the Japanese White-eye, (Zosterops japonicus), so unlike anything we have in the UK. The colour of it’s back matching the lush green leaves like a chameleon, only giving itself away with a flash of it’s beautiful buttery yellow throat, and weird white spectacles. This tiny bird is about the size of our Goldcrest, and this particular individual spent a long time attempting to swallow this large cherry. Fruit is a big part of this omnivorous bird’s diet in the summer.

Japanese White-eye, Zosterops japonicus, perched in cherry tree, eating cherry, Kyoto Imperial Palace Park, Kyoto, Japan

My last photos are of our constant companions. Wherever we went in Japan there were these little birds, incessantly chirping and reminiscent of home. Sparrows, they can be found almost anywhere, the shrubs outside our hotels, the bushes near the rivers, looking for crumbs near the temples, and here in the park too. But these are Tree Sparrows (Passer montanus) again, uncommon in the UK, so such a treat to see them up close. Such a handsome little bird.

Tree Sparrow, Passer montanus, perched on a rock, Kyoto Imperial Palace Park, Kyoto, Japan

Tree Sparrow, Passer montanus, perched on a rock, Kyoto Imperial Palace Park, Kyoto, Japan

I had a wonderful time in Japan, and would love to visit again one day! There is so much wildlife to explore, even in a country as densely populated as this. I could easily spend months photographing in this friendly place, a fantastic experience.

 

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Japan – Part 2

  • July 5, 2016 9:42 pm

The next wildlife stop on our tour of Japan was Nara, which is near Osaka, nearly 300 miles south east of Tokyo. Nara is famous for it’s very special sacred deer. They are Sika deer (Cervus nippon), and they roam freely in the town of Nara, and it’s wonderful park. As we walked up the hill towards the park a warm, musky animal scent met us, this is where the deer are. We followed our noses through the entrance and were greeted by the extraordinary sight of a Sika stag, with large antlers covered in velvet, snoozing near the temple, having his picture taken with eager selfie loving tourists. He sat patiently, quietly dozing with half closed eyes, as squirming young children were carefully placed next to him and photos snapped on cameras and phones.

You can buy deer crackers to feed to the sacred residents, and there were several stalls set up with stacks of these treats. Amazingly, the deer don’t seem to raid the stalls, but wait for people to purchase some cookies, and then gang up on them. They nip and headbutt, shoving whoever is holding the food, bullying them into dropping pieces of cracker as they flee the furry onslaught. Despite that, they are reasonably gentle for a large animal, it did cross my mind as a young stag carefully nibbled my clothes, that they could do some damage if they really wanted to. But they really are quite polite. Away from the chaos near the cracker stand, the animals are much calmer, and even bow their heads to ask for a treat. It was quite an experience to be approached by an animal, carefully considering me with deep brown eyes, bowing it’s head respectfully, and taking the cracker I offered with soft, velvet covered lips, warm whiskers gently brushing my hand.

With my long lens on my camera I was only able to capture close ups of these beautiful mammals, as they have no fear whatsoever of people.

Sika deer, Cervus nippon, Japanese deer, Spotted deer, close up of young female, Nara Park, Japan

Sika deer, Cervus nippon, Japanese deer, Spotted deer, close up of young female, Nara Park, Japan

Sika deer, Cervus nippon, Japanese deer, Spotted deer, deer being petted, Nara Park, Japan

The deer seem to realise their sacred status, and as we stood waiting to cross the road, two large groups of people on either side, patiently standing, a couple of deer sauntered slowly out into the road. We all watched with great amusement as all the cars stopped to let them cross, stopping for the deer, but not for the humans!

Sika deer, Cervus nippon, Japanese deer, Spotted deer, close up of young female, Nara Park, Japan

It was rather rainy, and some deer took shelter under the trees, but mostly they didn’t seem to mind the rain.

Sika deer, Cervus nippon, Japanese deer, Spotted deer, close up of young male in rain, Nara Park, Japan

Exploring the quieter areas of the park, we found this little fawn watching from the sidelines.

Sika deer, Cervus nippon, Japanese deer, Spotted deer, fawn resting under tree, Nara Park, Japan

Curiosity got the better of him though, and he joined his mother to find out what all the fuss was about, although he was probably too young to try the crackers his mum was being fed.

Sika deer, Cervus nippon, Japanese deer, Spotted deer, close up of fawn, Nara Park, Japan

The park also had some fascinating wildlife apart from the deer, including this amazingly bright butterfly, which I think is a Common Grass Yellow (Eurema hecabe). It flitted along just above the ground, and landed frequently. It looked like it was perhaps taking minerals from the damp soil. Despite it’s intense colouring, when it landed amongst the leaf litter, it was actually quite well camouflaged, mimicking the shape and colour of the yellowing dead leaves.

Common Grass Yellow, Eurema hecabe, butterfly, on ground, Nara Park, Japan

As I was photographing one of the deer, a bobbing black and white bird caught my eye as it hurried across the deer nibbled bowling green grass. It wagged it’s long tail as it chased insects over the short lawn, unmistakeably a Wagtail. This, I think, is a Black-Backed Wagtail, otherwise known as a Japanese Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba lugens). Related to our own Pied Wagtail, and like much of the wildlife I found, so familiar, yet also wonderfully different.

Black-Backed Wagtail, Japanese Pied Wagtail, Motacilla alba lugens, looking for insects, Nara Park Japan

Stayed tuned for part 3, for more bird life!

 

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Japan – Part 1

  • June 30, 2016 9:57 pm

Japan. Wonderful, mysterious, so utterly different from my cosy corner of Norfolk. I have been extremely fortunate to visit this enigmatic country recently on a family holiday, a trip of a life-time. Naturally my camera came with me, and naturally, I had to investigate the local wildlife. I’ve a lot of photos, of course, so I’ve tried to choose the most interesting ones for you in the following three part series. Today I’m bringing you photos from our first stop in Tokyo, the magnificent Imperial Palace Park.

A deep moat surrounds the outer wall, and where there is water, there is life. Dabbling around in the green algae, pairs of Little Grebe’s raise their young, their whinnying call familiar and reminiscent of the fens of home, only here they live alongside the quiet hum of traffic and groups of chattering tourists. Sliding through the green water, slick and black a Cormorant chases fish. This is a Japanese Cormorant, also known as a Temminck’s Cormorant (Phalacrocorax capillatus). This one caught a huge fish, and struggled for some time to swallow it. Before it could consume it’s dinner, it strayed a little too close to a Grebe family and was chased away by the plucky little birds, loosing the fish in the process.

Japanese Cormorant, Temminck's Cormorant, Phalacrocorax capillatus, with fish, Tokyo Imperial Palace moat, Tokyo, Japan.

Around the edges of the moat, pond turtles lurk, basking just below the surface, or hauled out on the soft earth. It’s so odd to see these weird unfamiliar animals watching me watching them. Tucked into a gap in the moat brickwork a Black-Crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) waits as still as a statue, grey powder blue and beyond my camera, but a beautiful sight to see.

Japanese Pond Turtle, Mauremys japonica, female, Tokyo Imperial Palace moat, Tokyo, Japan

The first thing I noticed as we arrived in the humid drizzle on the first day however, was a deep and slightly sarcastic laugh –  ‘Ha, Ha, Haa,’ rolling down from the towering skyscrapers in the city. This voice belonged to a huge black bird, a Large-Billed Crow, also know as a Jungle Crow, (Corvus macrorhynchos). They seemed common everywhere, adding extra decoration to the already ornate rooftops, a black statuesque finial.

Large-billed Crow, Jungle Crow, Corvus macrorhynchos, perched on top of ornate buildling, Tokyo Imperial Palace, Japan

 

Large-billed Crow, Jungle Crow, Corvus macrorhynchos, perched on top of buildling, Tokyo Imperial Palace, Japan

 

Large-billed Crow, Jungle Crow, Corvus macrorhynchos, perched in maple tree, Tokyo Imperial Palace, Japan

I suspect these clever birds may well be a nuisance, but I was taken with their extraordinary nature. As we sat admiring the gardens this individual came and had a closer look at us, a huge and powerful bird, with a magnificent bill.  As he inspected us closely he radiated intelligence and curiosity like all crows seem to. In the bright sun you could just make out the iridescent oil of green and purple in his plumage. Just look at that beak!

Large-billed Crow, Jungle Crow, Corvus macrorhynchos, close up, Tokyo Imperial Palace, Japan

 

Large-billed Crow, Jungle Crow, Corvus macrorhynchos, close up, Tokyo Imperial Palace, Japan

 

Large-billed Crow, Jungle Crow, Corvus macrorhynchos, close up, Tokyo Imperial Palace, Japan

 

Watch out for the next instalment, a cute, fluffy animal fond of harassing tourists!

 

 

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Exhibition

  • May 31, 2016 9:05 pm

I’m really pleased to announce a small selection of my photos will be on display at the wonderful Beehive Coffee Shop in Blo Norton, Norfolk. It’s a great place to relax with a coffee and slice of delicious home-made cake, so head on over during June to take a look!

Brown Hare, Norfolk

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