In june, I finally got back to Costa Rica, 5 years after my previous trip. This time Nicky joined me. We travelled with my friend and guide Jeffrey Munoz.  The trip started with a dire 4 hour delay at the immigration hall in San Jose. Four wide bodied jets land within minutes, and only 4 agents to check all the passports! Not a great start, but things rapidly improved. Next morning, we drove to the Arenal volcano. The Arenal Observatory lodge was a perfect base for the first few days. We had hoped to see a margay in the area. Sadly no joy, but on our first day there, we did have some amazing opportunities to photograph some of the snakes that live in Costa Rica. This included some beautiful eyelash vipers.
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The highlight however was the chance to shoot this stunning bushmaster. This is central America’s most venomous snake, and although it was clearly quite relaxed, taking pictures with a wide angle lens at this range was quite a thrill
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The next day was spent on a visit to the Cano Negro wetland area on the Nicaraguan border. This was a great area for bird photography with our first owl of the trip, these screech owls.
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There were also a number of other great birds like this kingfisher.
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From Arenal, we moved up to Bosque de Paz, our first hummingbird site.  This small lodge was a great site with gardens full of hummers. Initially, I shot using natural light, fun but difficult as it was so dark.
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The next day, we set up some flash guns and spent the whole day shooting the humming birds. This was huge fun and totally addictive. I managed to get many good shots, very many!!
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There was also a little surprise for Nicky here when she came across a tarantula on the path one afternoon. Cute!
From here we moved back down to sea level to spend a few days at the Selvaverde lodge. Here we met a very strange character , known by Jeffrey as Elmo, due to his vocal similarity to the Muppet character. The was hot tropical rainforest and provided some amazing wildlife. We were able to photograph some of the wonderful little frogs that live in this humid forests. They are great fun, but again a challenge in low light. They tend to hop around quite rapidly too!! This little guy is a glass frog, transparent and only 2cm long!
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The next day,I met Coppee, an amazing guide. He hacked through the rain forest and found some great stuff. Within a couple of hours in the baking hot, humid forest I had photographed two species of bat, and two species of owl amongst others.Amazing.
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In the afternoon, we had quite a laugh shooting an ant pitta. This little bird is quite shy, and it appeared within the root system of a large tree.We then waited for a couple of hours while it teased us by starting to come out into the open, then rushing back into the dark. Eventually, it relaxed came out and flew so close that I thought it would land on the camera!
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The next destination was back up in the highlands. We travelled to the Paradiso de Quetzal to try and find the resplendent quetzal, said by some to be the most beautiful bird in the world!! Last time I came to Costa Rica, I only saw one at the top of a very tall tree in Monteverde. This time was much more successful. With the help of Eric,our local guide, we found some wild avocado trees which were fruiting, and before long, the quetzals appeared, stunning indeed!
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We the did another great session with the humming birds, including the amazing flame throated hummingbird. High up in this new ecosystem at nearly 3000m , there were lots of other stunning birds to photograph such as this chlorophonia.
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Our final destination, was on the Pacific coast. The Parador hotel in Quepos is right by the Manuel Antonio national park. Here we found the mantled howler monkeys the had woken us at 5am when we were at Arenal. The hotel was amazing and having monkeys, sloths and many birds on the property was amazing.
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We got some great views of sloths at long last, Both here and in Brazil, I had been unable to see a sloth, so it was great to see both 2 and 3 toed varieties.
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On the final day, we went looking for birds again. Several great species, but it was probably the ferruginous pygmy owl that was my favourite. Like all these small owls, they seem to have a great attitude.Tough characters.
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It was a great trip.I came home with over 22000 images, some idea of the almost continuous shooting. Thanks for all your help Jeffrey, you did a great job. Look forward to returning soon.

May has been centred around Luke and Laura’s wedding, so wildlife has taken a bit of a back seat, at this most busy time of the year. I was however delighted to find a little owl nest here in West Horsley, and have spent the last few evening watching the adults coming into the nest hole and hearing the rather unpleasant racous calls of the owlets demanding food. Here is the male,I think. He seems much more relaxed in my presence than his partner.

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April this year has been busy in every sense. Frantic at work, but with two very different trips to enjoy as well.

The first was an adventure to Svalbard on a land based trip searching for polar bears. I have beeb here twice before in the summer, but this is the first time that I have tried earlier in the year.

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The idea was that in early April, the sea ice should be breaking up and the bears coming into the fjords to hunt for ringed seals in the last remaining areas of ice where the seals are giving birth. The good news for bears, but bad news for photographers is that this year there has been much more sea ice than for the last five. This means that the bears had a huge area to roam in search of their prey out at sea(ice!). We arrived at our base, the old coal miners cabins in  Longyearbyen and sorted out the snowmobiles before venturing out for eight days and over 1000km on the search!

Initially we had some success finding arctic fox and reindeer so we were very optimistic.

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It is amazing to think that these animals scratch a living in this savage environment.

Our first full day found us driving across a glacier in a white out, and later a couple of the guys managing to crash through the surface ice on one of the fjords (definite need for bicycle clips for them!!!!) quite exciting!!

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Riding these things at uptown 100km/h was quite fun to start with, but after a while………!

Anyhow, the search continued and we focussed initially on the old Russian  settlement of Pyramiden, where a bear had been sighted. This is a bizarre place which used to have a coal mine, but is now just inhabited by a handful of Russians in an old hotel! They have to stay there year round in order for Russia to maintain her claim on the area.The town itself is completely deserted, and would be a landscape photographers dream. After a very long day, we reached our destination and found a newborn ringed seal on the ice near the old town .It was delightful.

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It’s mother was clearly anxious to get it into the safety of the water, but these youngsters are not able to swim for the first few days.

Whilst in this area, we also had the best fox encounter with this beautiful white example.

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There was also a much more cautious dark form of arctic fox hunting in the area. He kept his distance but was nice to watch!

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From here, we decided to head to the east coast as we thought this would be our best chance. En route we saw many more reindeer.

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Following the reindeer, we were also able to get close to the only bird to make an appearance, the ptarmigan. They often follow the reindeer looking for food where the snow has been disturbed. These stunning white birds were also fantastic in the white landscape.

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This is a very beautiful place and the ice we encountered was fantastic, as were the glaciers seen from the very unusual perspective of being on foot near their fronts.

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The bears remained elusive. The scenery was amazing and we spent quite a while including a very cold and uncomfortable night on our snowmobiles out on the sea ice, looking.

_DSC4517While driving between icebergs on the sea (that last time I visited, I was on a ship!!) we finally found our bear. A female with two new cubs, no more than 30m away. We had to back away rapidly and she took her cubs in the opposite direction into an oncoming snowstorm and some very difficult terrain. We could not follow her and that was it!

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This was the only shot I grabbed before she disappeared.Hard to believe that even with tracks to follow, we had no joy!

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Better luck next time.

It was a great trip nonetheless. Our guide Pieter was fantastic, and the the other guys great companions. Thanks to all of you.  I look forward to another crack at polar bears soon.

The second trip was back to see Carles and Roger in Catalonia. These guys have a great selection of hides, and my targets for the weekend were twofold.First, was the display antics of a very Spanish bird, the Little Bustard. Although they do live elsewhere, Spain is probably the world’s major population for this wonderful bird. They live in grassland and arable farmland, and the males display in the mornings at a lek. It is a very comical display, with the bird initially just calling.

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But then starting to puff out his collar and leap about a metre into the air. My male must have done this fifty times in the hour or so before he got bored!

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This morning display was followed by an evening with a very unusual animal.The genet, a small carnivore looking quite like a cross between a cat and a large mustelid. They are normally extremely shy and highly nocturnal, but this wonderful female has been getting sufficiently used to my guide Ivan, that she now appears before dusk.

It was truly incredible to be so close to this animal that I had never seen before.

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She seemed quite relaxed and allowed me to shoot for several minutes before disappearing back into the forest.

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It was also nice to se that she was heavily pregnant.  My final day, sadly ended with another whole day from before dawn in an initially freezing, to a subsequently boiling hide waiting for a goshawk. I spent a day in this hide two years ago with no success and should have learnt my lesson. I could even hear the bird calling, but he would not come into view. Might try back in Norway where they seem much more co-operative!

Spent a couple of days in Estonia. I went looking for Ural owls, but sadly the weather did not co-operate. It was quite windy and not really cold enough, so they stayed tucked up in the forest. My guide Remo, has great knowledge of the area and fantastic field skills, but even he could not find one. What we did find was a great Pygmy Owl. This is Europes smallest owl, and we heard this character responding to a call from quite a distance.

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We enjoyed his company for a little while, before he got a bit peckish! From about 7 or 8 meters up he suddenly dived down and caught a mouse. Very impressive. Got a quick snap before he disappeared back into the forest!

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We spent some time following some very fresh and quite large wolf tracks. No sign of the wolves sadly. There were plenty of roe deer around, with the bucks sporting their velvet covered antlers.

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We also got a glimpse of a small group of elk one early morning. Hard to believe animals this big can disappear so effectively!

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The last treat was a nice tawny owl, with quite grey plumage doing his best to look like the Ural owls that I couldn’t find!

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Delighted to be awarded a Highly Commended in this fun competition with my waving polar bear picture. The awards ceremony was in London last night where I met some of the other photographers. A nice evening!

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Late September saw us heading out to South America to explore some new areas of this beautiful continent. We flew to Buenos Aires where we had to ‘waste’ a day due to difficult flight connections(more of that to follow later). We have been to Buenos Aires before, and quite honestly, there is only so much Evita stuff that I can take! I had heard about a large park/nature reserve in the south of the city so we thought it would be nice to visit. We took a taxi, who drove us miles, and dropped us off in the middle of the docks, pretending not to speak English and pointing in the wrong direction. He clearly knew we were miles from our intended destination, and in a fairly unsavoury part of town, thats for that. Probably a Falklands war vet!  We eventually found the reserve which though crowded was very nice. The day was saved by a visit to La Cabrera, a very nice steak restaurant! The next morning after a night at Rooney’s hotel, (how could we stay anywhere with that name!!), we headed south to El Calafate. This little town in Southern Argentina is fairly bland, sits close to the beautiful mountains and the national park called Las Glacieras. This is clearly named after the glaciers that we visited . The Perito Moreno glacier was impressive, and we were able to see it from land rather than boat. Very interesting and a good view of some calving.

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I would not recommend the boat trip to the other glaciers however as you will be sat waiting for hours while everyone takes their selfies, the first place where we were frustrated by this ridiculous activity. El Calafate is named after the Calafate berry, which is like a blueberry and delicious. The town is blessed with a lovely little nature reserve called Laguna Nimez. This reminded me of Titchfield Haven where I have spent many happy days. The star bird here was a beautiful harrier. I have spent ages in Europe trying to get good shots of Montagues harriers, but here, they have a very similar bird called the Cinereous harrier. They were just arriving for the summer and provided great entertainment.

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There were lots of great birds here and I could happily have spent several days just in the reserve. After three days, we traveled west to Chile. This was the focus of the whole trip and as we approached the Torres Del Paine national park, we were not disappointed. The scenery was stunning with the three towers dominating the landscape.

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The reason we came to this park was to look for pumas (aka cougar or mountain lion). This is a big cat that is very elusive and I have never seen on many trips to North America. Even here , they are shot by farmers as they occasionally kill sheep, and are quite shy. It is nothing like seeing lions in Africa, but perhaps, more like leopards. They are usually solitary, and hidden. With driver Cesar, guide Sebastian, and tracker Alejandro, we looked, searched, crept and climbed to get views of these cats. The first one was perched high up a steep hill and needed a very careful approach from about 750m. Carrying a tripod and 600mm lens in this situation is not easy, but we got to about 200m before the male decided that was enough and moved away. It constantly amazed me how hard it was to find these cats considering the almost complete absence of tress and high bushes in the area. We enjoyed early morning starts and evening sessions with the middle of the day spent exploring other areas of the park, including some lovely hikes. As well as the pumas, there were lots of great birds and of course the guanacos.These relatives of the llama were everywhere and form the bulk of the pumas diet. In fact they are crucial in finding a puma as the herds usually have sentinels on hill tops, so that as soon as a puma is spotted, alarm calls ring out. Trying to triangulate using the alarm calls can sometimes reveal the presence of an otherwise invisible puma.

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We drove around various parts of the park, but mainly just outside the park looking for pumas, but the highlight was undoubtedly early one morning when I spotted some movement our way back to the hotel. It turned out to be two cubs, probably about four months old, that had been left by their mother who was presumably hunting. It was fantastic to see these two who stayed in the open for a couple of minutes.

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They were clearly out when they shouldn’t have been and hid fairly soon. We decided to come back that evening in the hope of seeing them again. As we approached the area, we saw an adult lying about 200m away. We assumed this was the mother and took some shots.We could not see the cubs however, and being in the national park, were unable to go off the paths to look. After a while, a car pulled up and one of the senior park rangers got out.We were expecting to get moved on as were a little way from the road. Instead, he was interested in hearing about the cubs, and went back to where we had seen them in the morning. To our amazement, he found them in a thicket, with their mother. The adult we had been watching clearly nothing to do with the cubs. I was called over to joint the ranger who walked me down to about 15m away. It was a truly amazing experience, and although the photography was difficult, I got a couple of shots, before we had to retreat.

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Hard to beat something like that!

Torres del Paine is a great place and I heartily recommend it. The pumas were great as were the birds. Here are a group of gorgeous flamingos.

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And of course, the symbol of the Andes, the Condor.

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All too quickly, we had come to the end of our time here. The next part of the trip was rather contorted. A long drive to Punta Arenas(boring), then a wasted day before a flight to Santiago (boring, and ripped off by another crooked cab driver!), another boring day, then a flight to Buenos Aires where we had to wait several hours for the flight to Iguazu Falls. Aerolineas nearly ruined this part of the trip by not sorting our luggage, but managed to sort it at the last minute after a lot of running through the airport in dramatic fashion!!

We finally arrived at the falls, and wow, it was worth it. What a stunning place. Nicky had heard that there was a Belmond hotel here so wanted to end the trip with a bit of luxury. More importantly, the national park and hence falls, is only open to the public from 9-5 during which time, it is packed. If you stay at the Belmond, you are there by the falls with free personal access outside these hours.Well worth paying for. This is the ‘Devil’s Throat’ at the heart of the falls

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The falls stretch for a huge distance with somewhere between 250-300 separate waterfalls making up the whole thing.  We spent most time on the Brazilian side, but one day across the border on the Argentinian side. Both are worth visiting as they give quite a different perspective. The Argentinian side has a network of very nice walking trails, though we were again dogged by the dreaded selfie sticks as we did this side during the ‘daytime’.

I could resist the chance of a short helicopter trip to get an overview. Here are the falls, and our hotel (good position!!).

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There wasn’t a huge amount of wildlife at the falls but it wasn’t completely dead! My favourite South American, the Toco toucan was present.They always make me smile!

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There are a number of coatis that make a living scavenging from tourist, who in spite of signs everywhere continue to feed them. At night they climb up into trees and sleep in little groups in nests.Very cute!

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I did manage to spot some parrots and monkeys by going out early, but during the day, they tend to keep away. The falls were so spectacular, that they are a must if visiting Brazil. If you are a photographer, pay the extra and stay at the hotel Des Catarates too, really worth it.

That was it. Back to Sao Paolo and home, back at work in the blink of an eye. Great trip and wonderful photography. Go there if you can.

June has been a busy month with 2great trips. The first was to Minnesota in the northern USA. I had two targets for this trip, but the whole thing nearly collapsed at the first hurdle when I realised that I had forgotten our driving licenses while on the plane flying out! It took a huge amount of stress and great work from Luke and Geoff to get me the information I needed to get a car in Minneapolis. Having finally got it, we drove out west to Annandale to try and find the bird called the Western grebe. This lovely bird is a member of the family that I have always liked. I set out with Stan and nearly had to cancel the whole thing due to terrible weather, but we carried on to the lake and the sun came up. The first bird soon came into view sitting on it’s nest.

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These birds nest in large groups in the middle of big lakes. In this area, there were probably 20-30 pairs and as the sun came up, we got some stunning views.

_DSC3542Photographing from a boat is not always easy, but we spent a few hours enjoying these birds. Also nearby were a group of American pelicans.

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The birds are very attractive and here is a male displaying his crown.

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In amongst all the Western Grebes, was one single Clarks grebe, a very similar birdbath a slightly different feather pattern on it’s head.

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The real hope however was to see the amazing rituals that these grebes do as part of their pair bonding. It took all morning and the weather started to rapidly deteriorate, before we got one view of the wonderful dance, the ‘rush’

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Well worth the early start and the wait! After this excitement, we went to see a bald eagle nest, not something you get a good view of every day. Both parents were in the tree nearby.

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The nest itself seemed to have one large chick who seemed quite content!

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Another bird of prey came into view at Stan’s house, where he is lucky enough to have his own osprey’s nest. This must be what it’s like to be a fish in the sights of these great birds!

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Eventually we drove north to find the black bears that were the main focus of the trip. Orr is not a very exciting village. We stayed in a classic American motel, and eat our meals in the only local restaurant, The Dam. No Michelin stars, but adequate qualities!! We were there for the black bears and we were not disappointed.

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There were plenty of these cute, eating machines in the area along with a selection of this years cubs and curious teenagers. The cubs were adorable, as all baby animals are.

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Although ‘black bears’, many of them are brown in colour. They are amazing climbers going straight up the tallest trees as soon as they feel in any way threatened. It doesn’t take much to get them climbing then they sit happily high watching everything beneath them.

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They are very cute when hanging onto the trees.

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The main problem we had was that the weather was too good. Photographing black bears in a forest in dazzling sunlight is a very challenging task. Many of the pictures were unsuitable, but some were still salvageable, just!

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After finishing in Orr we drove back to Minneapolis and St Paul, the twin cities on the Mississippi river. A very interesting place well worth spending a couple of days exploring with some good history including Fort Snelling on the edge of the city and some of the amazing houses built by the timber and railroad barons who controlled the city in the late nineteenth century.

Overall, a very enjoyable week, that started disastrously but ended very well.

The second great trip was a return organised brilliantly by Greg and Brigitte. This year we decided to go to a different part of the Camargue, based at the beautiful town of Aiges Mortes. We stayed at a lovely hotel called Villa Mazarin in the centre of this stunning walled town. The food was fantastic, but of course the purpose of the trip was to photograph the horses. We were lucky with the weather again and had some great settings to photograph these gorgeous horses.

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This light was lovely and you really can’t go wrong with this kind of subject. We mainly photographed at the beginning and end of every day, with some great trips during the day including for example the great Roman city of Nimes and Avignon.

Although we always think of the horses as being white, this year we had the chance to shoot this impressive black stallion.

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Stallions are fairly intolerant of each other so this kind of activity happens fairly easily as soon as they get close.

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It was a great weekend with a really nice group of people. Thanks Greg for doing a great job.

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