Chester, 1st December 2019

It was a brilliant sunny day, but frosty underfoot. From Chester station we walked down City Road and Dee Lane to Grosvenor Park.  A Blackbird and a Wood Pigeon were making short work of a large crop of Holly berries. A party of Long-tailed Tits flitted through the pollarded Limes, and there was a Dunnock on the path. As a celebration of 130 years of the RSPB, some wickerwork bird sculptures have appeared, possibly made by the same artist who made the WWII aeroplanes last year. They represented a Cormorant, an Egret, a Hen Harrier and an Avocet, all birds important to the RSPB.

A Rat was foraging about, skulking under trees and benches and apparently minding its own business, living on wild food. We were struck by the comparison with the Grey Squirrels, which are greeted with delight and offered food from the hands of little children. It clearly helps to have a fluffy tail!  Grosvenor Park has several mature cedar trees, but most are Atlas Cedars and Deodars. There seems to be only one Cedar of Lebanon, across the lawn south of the Rose Garden. It has even-length needles in the usual cedar bunches (the Deodar’s needles are of variable lengths), and the cone has a domed top, not hollowed like an Atlas Cedar.

We lunched by the River Dee, and watched the local short-cruise boat coming in.

Then we went looking for the two ringed Black-headed Gulls, J4U8 from Norway and T4R0 from Poland. They were spotted again a week or two ago, but there was no sign of them today. Plenty of other BHGs, but not them. There were also some Mute Swans, a Moorhen and a few Mallards. On the “Danger – Weir” warning buoy we spotted a Cormorant.

The Christmas Market outside the Town Hall was busy, and I bought some Winter Aconite bulbs, which are probably a bit late to plant, but we’ll see. Then back through the Abbey Close and along the canal, accompanied by the sounds of the Cathedral bells. 

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.15, arriving Chester at 11.00. Returned on the 2.25 train, arriving Central 3.15.

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Sefton Park, 24th November 2019

It was a mild and damp day, and some of the plants think spring is coming. The Sticky Buds are out on the Horse Chestnut, and the winter flowers of Viburnum bodnantense (no common name) and Winter Jasmine were out, together with the early Hazel catkins.

The park lake was, as usual, full of gangs of birds which (apart from those who dive for fish) must be entirely supported by handouts of stale bread, or anything better that the visitors and their kids bring. There were huge numbers of Feral Pigeons, Mallards, Canada Geese, Black-headed Gulls, and smaller groups of Coots and Moorhens. A few Mute Swans were there too, and further out were Tufted Duck, a single Pochard, several first-winter Herring Gulls and a single Common Gull.  One Great Crested Grebe was gliding about on its own, looking quite austere without its breeding finery.

Some Cormorants were sitting on the chain posts.

The trees have now turned fully autumnal with striking copper carpets of Beech leaves under the trees. Here and there were splashes of different colours, like this bright butter-yellow Ginkgo, almost hidden in the Dell.

The County Champion Black Walnut (for both girth and height) which is opposite the bandstand had dropped a prodigious quantity of round black fruit onto the path and into the puddles under the nearby seat. Many of the Alder bushes around the lake were laden with cones, and some trees still had crops of berries (Whitebeam?).

At the top of the steps below the Rathbone statue is a clump of Caucasian Wingnuts, still bearing long strings of double-winged seeds.

Not far from the central café by the Eros fountain is a young tree that we had thought was a Foxglove tree, but now we see that not only are there two of them, but that they were bearing long pods. They must be Indian Bean trees Catalpa bignonioides, also known for their huge leaves. See this brown leaf, with a couple of pods and a normal-sized Hornbeam leaf for comparison.

An old rotting log had a marvellous crop of beautiful fungi. They looked like Oyster Mushrooms and smelt wonderful. They would be gourmet food if they were Oysters, but not being experts, we didn’t dare forage any.

Inside the Palm House we noticed for the first time a large tree with strange fronds. The sign said it was Araucaria heterophylla, origin Norfolk Island. Blow me, a Norfolk Island Pine! It’s a relative of the Monkey Puzzle, endemic to Norfolk Island in the South Pacific and vulnerable to extinction in the wild. They don’t grow in the open in Britain, they need hotter, drier summers, but there may be occasional ones in hothouses like this. I have glimpsed the odd ones in Mediterranean countries, catching the eye by their oddly symmetrical and primitive shapes, like children’s drawings of pine trees.

At the north-east corner of the lake is a young sapling on the bank that I check every time I pass it. I think it’s a Butternut, an American species of Walnut, Juglans cinerea. In the summer it has huge compound leaves, like Ash but at least 18″ long (50cm). The only other one I’ve ever seen was in Edinburgh Botanic Gardens. Today I looked at the oddly-shaped leaf scars on the bare twigs, which reminded me vaguely of Munch’s painting The Scream. A bit of Googling confirmed that Butternut twigs and buds do indeed look like this.

There are three Kingfishers living in the Park nowadays, but they weren’t showing themselves today, sadly. However, we did see (and hear) more than half a dozen Ring-necked Parakeets. The prettiest bird of the day was a Little Grebe or Dabchick, with its fluffy powder-puff back end, and the bubbles showing it had just bobbed up from a dive.

One additional note, the two Black-headed Gulls which make international commutes in the winter are back on the Dee in Chester, J4U8 from Norway and T4R0 from Poland. They feature in this year’s MNA newsletter on page 18. Keep a look out for them!

Public transport details: Bus 82 from Great Charlotte Street at 10.03, arriving 10.20 at Aigburth Road opp Ashbourne Road. Returned on the 82 from Aigburth Road / Jericho Lane at 2.40m arriving Liverpool ONE bus station at 2.55.

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Flaybrick Memorial Gardens, 17th November 2019

Flaybrick was opened in 1864 as Birkenhead Cemetery, and contains the memorials to many famous Victorian worthies of Wirral. It is now Grade 2* listed as being of Specific Historical Interest and is one of the Significant Cemeteries of Europe. It is now also an arboretum, containing over 80 species of tree, including some Champions and some rarities.

Over 400 of the people buried there were killed in one or other of the World Wars. There is an annual Remembrance Service for them in the old chapel, and this year they attached to the chapel railings a crocheted poppy for each of them, accompanied by a label with the name of the casualty.

It was an overcast and damp day, and we headed along to the RC section, which until recently had been seriously overgrown. A team from the Friends has been hard at work for over a year, clearing undergrowth, uncovering forgotten graves and making new woodland paths. We met some of them, still hard at work, and one was the lady who had crocheted the hundreds of poppies.  For all its former wildness, there weren’t many birds to be seen. Plenty of Wood Pigeons and Magpies, of course, but only occasional fleeting glimpses of Blue Tits. However, when we crossed the road to Tam O’Shanter Urban Farm (where there are picnic tables and loos), we were closely observed  by a Robin, who clearly had plans for our crumbs.

Also at the farm were two donkeys, saddled up and ready to give rides to little children. I was amused to see that they were named Homer and Marge.

It seems like only last week that I was commenting that plenty of green leaves were still on the trees but we have since had a couple of stormy nights, and most deciduous trees are now nearly bare. Back in Flaybrick, and walking around the oldest C of E section, we were disappointed to have missed the wonderful bronze display of the Cut-leaved Beeches, but they had dropped beautiful carpets of leaves onto the paths.

We kept on glimpsing a tree with a startlingly yellow canopy of leaves, and eventually found it. It was just the very common Norway Maple, nothing special, but a star at this time of year.

The bark of one tree caught our eye, and it looked like one of the Snake-bark Maples. The tree survey of July 2017 hadn’t mentioned one of those, but we know there are some trees that were missed. Is this one that the survey team overlooked? The tree had lost most of its leaves, but we managed to snag one that had lingered. A quick scout through my tree book (Mitchell’s Field Guide) suggests it might be a Père David’s maple Acer davidii, variety ‘Ernest Wilson’.  It had reddish buds in pairs on opposite stalks.

We looked at the Tulip Tree, hoping for spectacular autumn colour (the tree is famous for that in good years), but all the leaves were down, and they didn’t look as if they had been impressive. But we had more luck with the Swamp Cypress. It is one of the very few conifers which changes colour and sheds its leaves in the autumn. We caught it just on the turn. When it is doing that lovely subtle shading from green to red, it’s my favourite tree in all of Merseyside.

And finally, just as we were going, a good bird. From the top of a bare tree a Great Spotted Woodpecker had us under surveillance, making sure we were leaving its domain.

Public transport details: Bus 437 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.04, arriving Upton Road / Boundary Road at 10.30. Returned from the opposite stop on the 437 at 2.01, arriving Liverpool 2.22.

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Crosby beach, 10th November 2019

What a lovely day! There was a clear blue sky and it was calm and still. There had nearly been a frost overnight, as people were scraping car windows as I set out, but there were no frozen puddles. Our first stop was Bootle, where we attended their Remembrance service. Then we took the bus up to Crosby and lunched on a picnic table outside the Crosby Lakeside Adventure Centre. The thick hedges were full of House Sparrows, some bathing in puddles and others picking about after the picnickers.

On the boating lake were the usual Mallards, Coots, Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Black-headed Gulls and Herring Gulls. There were also some winter visitors: several black-and white Tufted Duck and a couple of russet-headed Pochards. The beach was quite busy on this lovely day, and the Iron Men were lost among the real people wandering about. There are at least four on this picture, with others in the very far distance.

Some of the Iron Men have recently been dug up to re-set those which had developed a “lean”. I thought they were also going to fix the ones where the sand has moved, making them stand above or below the beach level, but apparently not. However, they all seem to have had a spruce up and polish, with all barnacles and encrustations removed, and now they glow bronze in low sun.

I had brought my newly-acquired seashore book, Beachcombing and the Strandline by Steve Trewhella and Julie Hatcher, and we hunted along the tideline. We didn’t find anything startling. The seaweed was just the very common Bladder Wrack with the occasional strand of Egg Wrack – black strap-like fronds with large (2cm) single bladders along the stipe. The plant grows a new bladder each year, so you can “age” the weed as you do with tree-rings. But if all you get is broken pieces, you can’t conclude anything. There were Razor shells, but most were damaged and broken and were hard to identify. We think we saw both the Common Razor Shell Ensis ensis and the Pod Razor Shell Ensis siliqua. There were also plenty of Common Cockles and Common Mussels.

Cockles and Mussels …

The fine oval shells (pink when fresher) are Tellins, but whether these are Baltic Tellins or Thin Tellins, we couldn’t say.


There were a few snail-like Periwinkle shells and quite a lot of small Auger shells Turritella communis. They grow up to 5cm (2 inches), but these were smaller. Notice also that the one on the left appears to have a small round hole near the top. This looks like the work of a “driller killer”, probably a Dog Whelk, although the rarer Oyster Drill does this as well.

Auger shells

We saw a Pied Wagtail rootling for insects in the old Bladder Wrack. On the way back to the bus we walked into the dunes. John identified a distant bird flying away as a Snipe. We had gone to look at one of Britain’s rarest plants, which someone had shown us the location of last year. It’s called Dune Wormwood, and is known in only two patches in the UK, one in Glamorgan, and one here in Crosby Coastal Park. It isn’t much to look at, just dry brown stalks with marram grass growing through it. Its flowers are very underwhelming, too, I understand. The Coastal Park signage mentions it without giving away its precise location. Quite right!

Public transport details: 47 bus at 10.20 from Sir Thomas Street (diverted because Queen Square was closed), arriving Stanley Road / Keble Road at 10.32. From the same stop, the 53 bus at 11.45, arriving South Road / Waterloo station at 12.05. All except me returned on the 53 from Oxford Road / Courtenay Road at about 2.30, but I can walk home from there.

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Hesketh Park Southport, 3rd November 2019

Hesketh Park is another of the elegant Merseyside parks laid out by Edward Kemp, opened in 1868. The shelter of the surrounding mature trees made it very mild within the park, which probably accounted for the wildflowers which were still blooming – Ragwort, Red Campion, Bramble and Michaelmas Daisy.  On the lake was the usual urban bird congregation, Mallards, Mute Swans, Coots, Moorhens, Black-headed Gulls and a few juvenile Herring Gulls. However, there were also some more unusual ones. Several dozen Tufted Duck, a single Pochard and a Cormorant flapping its wings. There was a Grey Wagtail on the path.

Grey wagtail

In the shrubbery near the Conservatory was a shrub just coming into flower. “Castor Oil Plant”, said all my companions. But that’s a common mistake, apparently. It was a False Castor Oil Plant Fatsia japonica. It is also called glossy-leaf paper plant, fatsi, paperplant and Japanese aralia.

I was hoping for a blaze of autumn colour, but there is still far too much green about. Some trees are going yellow, and the leaves are starting to fall, but there isn’t much red yet. The reddest tree we saw was a Beech near the playground.

In the (tree) Specimen Garden we looked for the Katsura that used to be there but we couldn’t spot it. It has yellow heart-shaped leaves and is said to smell of candy floss in the autumn. The Dawn Redwood’s needles were brown and falling. A Tulip Tree, said to be famous for its autumn colour, could only muster yet more yellow, and the best effort came from several Persian Ironwoods, although not up to the glory of some autumns.

By a fluke, we found the Fernley Observatory open. It was originally just a Meteorological Observatory, but after the death of local man Joseph Baxendell FRAS (1815–1887), the retired Timekeeping Astronomer for the City of Manchester, his family offered his observatory, telescope and equipment to the park. It was erected and installed in 1901, and was originally open to the public. As time went by it fell into disuse, until it was restored as a historic building in 2007. It is still used by Southport Astronomical Society, but since the dome doesn’t rotate fully, it is used only for meetings and education, not observations.

Public transport details: Bus 47 from Queen Square at 10.15, arriving Albert Road / opp Hesketh Park at 11.30. Returned on the X2 from Albert Road / Park Road at 2.20, arriving Liverpool about 3pm.

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Taylor Park St Helens, 20th October 2019

It was a dry and mostly sunny day, but there was a chilly wind. Winter is coming! At the gate of the park was an interesting old Turnpike Road Milestone which, according to the accompanying sign, may date from around 1820. It and another similar one were once used as gateposts on a house in Balker Drive, near Victoria Park. They were recently recognised and rescued by local historians and are now sited in parks as near to their original sites as possible. This one was once on the other side of Prescot Road, outside the park. The wording on the left face is “To Afhton [Ashton]  VI [6] Miles  St Helens I [1] Mile.” On the right face “To Prescot III [3] Miles  Liverpool XI [9] Miles.” Inscribed on the base “Eccleston”.

As we walked up the main park path we were surprised that most trees are still green and almost fully-leafed. The Limes are showing about half yellow, but there is hardly any red. The birds don’t care, of course. Many were flitting about, including Great Tits, Blue Tits, Robins, a Goldcrest, a Treecreeper and a Buzzard overhead. We heard a Nuthatch but couldn’t find it. There were some very fresh Molehills on the grass verges and plenty of Grey Squirrels scampering about. The upper tree branches were interestingly twisty, looking vaguely spooky.

At the lake were the usual Mallards, Moorhens, Coots, Black-headed Gulls, Canada Geese, Mute Swans, and also three Tufted Ducks and a Great Crested Grebe. Also some oddities: they have about three red-wattled Muscovy Ducks and an apparently tame Barnacle Goose which keeps company with a rather suspect Greylag Goose, looking like it has smatterings of Canada Goose and White-fronted Goose in its ancestry.

There was a row of Black-headed Gulls on a railing, and we checked them for rings. None in evidence. It seems Taylor Park also has at least one regular international commuter, like the ones we spotted in Chester last winter. On the noticeboard outside the Visitors’ Centre is a sign asking people to look out for a gull nicknamed “Jeli”. (They initially misread the ring, which really says JBL1.) It commutes to the park each winter from the Oslo area of Norway.

We had our lunch in the sunken Quarry garden, where Coal Tits were coming to breadcrumbs. Then we strolled around the lake. A Dunnock came out on the path. A Wych Elm caught the sun and was hosting several Ladybirds, also a larva. I can see on the photo that they had brown legs, not black, so they were Harlequins sunning themselves before finding a cranny to hibernate in.

A decorative Cherry tree was the only bit of Autumn red that we spotted all day.

We also admired a young Tibetan Cherry, with stripy bark in bands of shiny mahogany brown.

Public transport details: Bus 10 from Queen Square at 10.15, arriving Prescot Road / Regents Road (outside Taylor Park) at 10.54.  Returned from Prescot Road / Toll Bar (opposite the park) on the 10 at 2.10, arriving Liverpool at 2.55

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Birkenhead Park, 13th October 2019

Birkenhead Park was opened in 1847, and is the world’s first publicly-funded civic park, open to all. It is said to have inspired New York’s Central Park, and is a Grade I listed landscape. It’s over two years since we were last there. In light rain we walked down from the massive arched Grand Entrance, looking at the gulls on the muddy field on the left: Black-headed Gulls, Common Gulls, a few young Herring Gulls, one or two Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a few Magpies beyond. The droopy evergreen there is a Brewer Spruce, I think.

Many of the red-berried trees have fruited well this autumn, especially the Hollies and Yews. Several birds were after the Yew berries, including a Great Tit, a very fast and elusive Goldcrest and a Mistle Thrush at the top of a neighbouring Beech. There isn’t much autumn colour yet. The Limes are going yellow, the Horse Chestnuts are brown from the leaf miner infection, but there is still lots of green. We made an anti-clockwise circle around the lake, seeing only the ubiquitous Pigeons, Mallards, Moorhens and Coots. A bit more exciting was a Treecreeper. Some of the trees bore bat roosting boxes, and there are said (in the poster in the Visitors’ Centre) to be five species of bat here, although they weren’t named. We looked at the Mulberry tree, but there was no fruit left on it. At the west end of the Lower Lake, just past the rockery corner, is one of the park’s star trees, the Cucumber Tree Magnolia accuminata, with its huge leaves hanging over the path, at least a foot (30cm) long.

There’s a Monterrey Cypress by the Swiss Bridge, with large clusters of scaly woody fruits.

We looked at an interesting tree over the water, on the south east side of the lake. It’s only a small one, with bluey green compound leaves and rounded leaflets. The leaflets are the wrong shape for a Pagoda tree, so it is possibly a Locust tree, a False Acacia, Robinia pseudoacacia. Mitchell’s tree book describes the leaves as greyish green, so that might be it.

By the bridge at the north east end of the lake we checked to see if there were any survivors of the distinctive brood of five tall thin black Mallards, which we first saw in November 2011. In August  2017 we found one still alive on the other side of the park, but we didn’t see it today.  But there was a family of Mute Swans with three big brown cygnets, several Canada Geese and a Cormorant.

Behind the Visitors’ Centre was a very strange wooden structure, labelled sternly “not a playground or a toy”, so I think it must have been Art.

In the far corner was a glade full of little fairy houses.

On some old branches left on the grass nearby to decompose were some interesting small fungi. Some were chalk-white flat ones with a hint of a stalk, maybe 1cm across. They looked like little white flowers. My friend Google Images suggests they might be Plicatura crispa (no common name), which is more usually found in Scotland, or northern English counties. The most southerly report is from Richard Fortey, (yes, THAT Richard Fortey), from a wood in Oxfordshire.

Further along the same log were some small bracket-types, again about 1cm, with white edges, fawn gills on the top side, and smooth below. The log didn’t appear to have been turned or moved recently, so that’s the way they had grown. Back to my friend Google Images, which suggests they are Split Gill Schizophyllum commune, which is common and widespread.

We found a Spindle tree in a shrubbery on the west side of the Visitors’ Centre, its four-sided red seed cases opening to reveal the hard round red seeds inside, one to each section. Later, on the way back to the station, we noted another of the Park’s star trees, the Hybrid Strawberry Tree inside the fence by the traffic lights, with dark evergreen leaves and red peeling bark. But before that it had started to rain hard, so we retreated to the Visitors’ Centre for shelter, spotted their table tennis table, asked at the desk and were entrusted with some bats and balls. It’s a long time since any of us have played table tennis. We found that we could serve as we used to, but the return strokes went all over the place!

Public transport details: Bus 437 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.19, arriving Park Road North / Park Road East at 10.35. Returned on the train from Birkenhead Park station at 14.36, arriving Liverpool 14.55.

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Sat 26th Oct Beacon Fell CP. Type: Coach Trip Where we are meeting: 8.30 Bromborough Village, 8.45 Conway Park, 9.00 William Brown Street, 9.15 Rocket (start M62) Cost: £20. Do I need to book? Yes with Coach Secretary Seema Aggarwhal Tel: 07984 231059 or if no answer with Sabena Blackbird

Guided or free to roam: FTR or Guided, leader John Clegg

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New Brighton, 6th October 2019

It was forecasted to be a very wet day, so we thought we needed to be near shelter. West Kirby or New Brighton sprang to mind, and the first bus that came was for New Brighton. In the event it was dry and occasionally sunny, so we were overdressed! But it was very windy on that exposed corner of the Wirral.

Our first stop was the pontoons on the Marine Lake, which are always good for shorebirds sitting out the rising tide. Would there be a Purple Sandpiper or two? Sadly not. But there were many little red-legged brown and white Turnstones, taller Redshanks, a Black-headed Gull and a Lesser Black-backed Gull, and near the back, a couple of Knot. On this picture one is stretching up and preening its breast.

We walked along the north edge of the Marine Lake. Far out on the beach by the lighthouse were lots of gulls and a small group of Oystercatchers. We stopped to look at the small mound of dry beach and rocks near the corner of Fort Perch Rock. It was topped with clumps of Marram grass, which is often the first coloniser of bare sand, and its roots stabilise the young dune.

A couple of other plants were colonising this marginal habitat. I think this is Sea Beet, although the leaves don’t quite match the book. Much in demand by trendy foraging restaurants, apparently.

On the sheltered side under the railing was a crucifer with white flowers. Probably Sea Rocket, whose flowers can be purple, but lilac and white are known variations.

In the open tarmac space in front of Fort Perch Rock, some recent high tides had thrown up lines of drying seaweed, with the egg cases of Whelks caught amongst them, like lumps of bubble wrap. There were also a couple of “mermaid’s purses”. I looked them up on the website of the Shark Trust’s Great Eggcase Hunt.  The smaller brown one was just under 9 cm, so it was too big to belong to the Small Spotted Catshark or Dogfish, whose egg cases are only about 4 cm long. I think it came from a Nursehound, another kind of dogfish or catshark, Scyllorhinus stellaris.

There are about four different square black ones, but the case of the Thornback Ray Raja clavata looks like about the right size and shape.

After lunch in a shelter near the Floral Pavilion, we decided it was too windy to stay, so we headed back to Morrison’s for the bus home.

Public transport details: Bus 432 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.18, arriving King’s Parade / Robson Street (Morrison’s) at 10.43. Returned on the 432 bus outside Morrison’s at 1.25, arriving Liverpool 1.51.

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MNA Fungi Foray Dibbinsdale 29th Sept 2019

The hardy members of the MNA who ventured into a rather wet and squelchy Dibbinsdale for the annual fungi foray were rewarded by a few nice mycological finds. Stump Puffball Lycoperdon pyriforme, Dryads Saddle Polyporus squamosus, King Alfred’s Cake’s Daldinia concentrica, White Brain Exidia thuretiana, Southern Bracket Ganoderma adspersum, Deciever Laccaria laccata, Amethyst Deciever Laccaria amethystine, Wet Rot Coniophora puteana, Scaly Earthball Scleroderma verrucosum, Blushing Bracket Daedaleopsis confragosa, Glistening Inkcap Coprinellus micaceus, Sulphur Tuft Hypholoma fasciculare, Coral Spot Nectria cinnabarina, Crested Coral Clavulina coralloides, Rancid Bonnet Mycena olida, Iodine Bonnet Mycena filopes, Golden Waxcap Hygrocybe chlorophana and the beauties below:-

Jellybaby Leotia lubrica
Twig Parachute Marasmiellus ramealis
Tan Ear Otidea alutacea
Yellow Club Clavulinopsis helvola
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