MNA Coach Trip Shropshire Meres 22nd January 2017

A misty, damp and cold day greeted the first MNA coach trip of 2017 at our favourite winter site – The Mere at Ellesmere, Shropshire. On the small wooded island a Grey Heron was already sittting on one of the nests in the Heronry and on an adjacent tree was a Little Egret. Beside the visitor centre the motley collection of farmyard Geese, Greylags, Canadas, a feral Swan Goose and numerous hydrids of dubious parentage were vociferously begging from the younger visitors and their families. A couple of Mute Swans sported blue darvic rings on their legs with alpha-numeric code 7FDD and 7FIP ringed by the Mid Wales Swan Study Group – a record of these sightings have been forwarded to Martin Grant. He tells me they are a resident pair on The Mere – the female (7FDD) was ringed as a second year in 2008. Large numbers of Coot were also in the water and strutting around in between the Geese with their disproportionately large looking grey webbed feet. A couple of these also wore darvics – white ones with the code AHA and AII – a record of these have been forwarded to Kane Brides’ North-west Coot Project.

Farmyard Goose

A few Goosanders, Goldeneye and Tufties were on the south end of the Mere, a dozen or so Great Crested Grebes in the main body of water but the majority of the wildfowl were bobbing around the north end with more Goosanders 4m 2f, Goldeneye 6m 1f, Cormorants 30+, Wigeon 72+, Tufties 30+ Mallards along with BHGs plus a Herring and Lesser Black Backed Gull. Small numbers of Blue, Great & Coal Tit, Goldcrest, a few Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Prune, Robin, Wren, Chaffinch and a charm of Goldfinches were noted. Corvids included Jackdaw, Carrion Crow and a Raven overhead. Next to the art installation of a giant Bee, a fallen tree trunk had Smoky Bracket Bjerkandera adjusta and Hairy Stereum Stereum hirsutum.

Smoky Bracket + Hairy Stereum

Barbara and co had a double-take when a Labrador passed them carrying a large fish, protruding from both sides of its mouth – probably a Pike. According to its owners it had picked the fish up from one of the small fishing platforms and was exceedingly happy with its find!

After lunch we walked through the Ellesmere Tunnel and along the towpath of the Shropshire Union Canal, a canal boat ‘The Viking’ slowly cruised by. A few feeding flocks of Blue and Great Tits along with Goldfinches were high in the trees looking silhouetted in the poor light. A Nuthatch called then was singing briefly, a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming, and a Jackdaw was making a strange call unlike the commonly heard chattering ‘Jack /chack.’ A twig by the path was covered in Coral Spot Fungus Nectria cinnabarina. Flat calm conditions at Blakemere with only Mallards, Cormorant and a Mute Swan in residence. Continuing along the Canal a flock of Woodpigeons along with Stock Doves and Corvids were feeding amongst a seed crop field. A Marsh/Willow Tit in the gloom seemed to lack the pale secondary panel so probably the former. A Green Woodpecker yaffled and another Great Spotted Woodpecker flew by with its distinctive undulating flight. We crossed the canal bridge beside the thatched cottages and dropped down to Colemere.

Unbelievable numbers of Goosanders in small mixed male & female flotillas all over the lake – I lost count approaching 40! We had a chat to a couple who told us about some Scaup at the far end of the lake. One of their daughters is clearly a budding photographer and showed us a picture she had taken of a Marsh/Willow Tit we agreed it looked more like a Marsh Tit. Trying not to be too blasé about the Goosanders, we also noted a few Mallards, Goldeneye, Mute Swan and Tufty. By the Colemere Sailing Club we found the adult drake Scaup and further out beside a mob of BHGs were 1st winter male and female Scaup.

We walked along the lane from Colemere turning into Wood Lane, a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers in a bare tree. Further on we spied some Redwings with yet more dotted around other nearby trees totalling around 60 birds. Some extensive sand and gravel extraction works were in progress on both sides of the lane taking advantage of the rolling drumlin fields left over from the last glacial period. Peeking through the hedge at the Shropshire Wildlife Trusts Wood Lane Nature Reserve we noted Lapwing 50+ and Shelduck on the ponds and a rather fancy looking new hide. Time was pressing though we continued down the lane crossing the main road and onto the narrow track leading to Whitemere. There had been reports of a Long-tailed Duck here recently, no joy with that but we did add Shoveler and a male Pochard to the days tally. A nice sunset through the bare winter trees on the walk back to Ellesmere.

If you are interested in the wildlife of the north-west of England and would like to join the walks and coach trips run by the Merseyside Naturalists’ Association, see the main MNA website for details of our programme and how to join us.

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Eastham, 15th January 2017

Our first walk of 2017 might have become a Waxwing hunt if any had been reported in Liverpool, but it seems they have all moved on to Warrington. (But I saw a few last week – see below.) We decided instead to go to Eastham, and perhaps meet the MNA there.

The lane off the New Chester Road was soft and muddy in parts, and the day was mild, damp and overcast. There were Magpies and gulls on the Leverhume Sports Field and Blue Tits in the trees. The big old Beech that was once Wirral’s largest tree (80 ft / 24 m tall at the end of the 20th century) is still gently rotting away. One fallen branch was covered with small Puff Balls about an inch across, the bracket fungi were covered in moss, and a hole in the stump was full of chips of light rotten wood. There wasn’t much colour anywhere, apart from a young Beech sapling retaining its bronze leaves, and a Hazel still bearing green ones.

Down by the Eastham Ferry hotel we watched a small oil tanker coming out of Stanlow oil terminal. It was a Danish ship, the M/T Ternvag, on the way to Amsterdam.

There were Cormorants perched on a wooden mooring.

We lunched inside the Ranger Station and watched the birds coming to the feeders.  There were at least two Nuthatches, numerous Great Tits and Blue Tits, a Coal Tit, Chaffinches, Robin, Blackbird and a special treat – a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Coal Tit and Nuthatch

Blue Tit and Great Tit

Chaffinch and GSW

There were also at least five Grey Squirrels on the ground. When we met the MNA later, they said they had also seen a small group of Wood Mice poking about in one corner.

The Rangers have a three-panel leaf display in the education area, presumably showing trees that can be found in the area. One of the other panels shows a Tulip Tree, which seems unusual for a semi-natural woodland, and this panel shows more uncommon trees – Aspen, Giant Redwood and Western Hemlock. Are they in the wood too?

We spotted the Western Hemlock Tsuga heterophylla almost immediately, on the eastern side of the car park. Their foliage is a bit like Yew, but they have small woody cones.

There was a Wren in the shrubbery and a Song Thrush on the open field. We walked about quarter of a mile northwards on the Wirral circular trail, then back again.

There were leaves of Red Oak underfoot, but we didn’t identify the tree. Some spikes of Daffodils were pushing up, but no Snowdrops. None of us has any in their gardens, either. Are they late this year?  It was misty and drizzling by then. We could hear an aeroplane from Speke climbing over our heads but it was invisible in the low cloud. The only flowers were on the Gorse.

On the way back past the sports field, even the trees on the other side were disappearing in the mist.

Did you have I-Spy books when you were a kid? They are back!  John has the one for birds and plans to use it only for Sunday Group sightings. If we do well and get 1000 points we can send off for a Super Spotter certificate!  I think we might have got 140 points today. (Added later – John says it was 180!)

On the way home I bought I-Spy Trees, and plan to do the same. Not all of the trees we saw today are in the book, but we can count Pedunculate Oak, Sessile Oak, Beech, Hazel and Scots Pine, a total of 50 points. The top trees in the book are the 25-pointers, including Black Locust, Coast Redwood, English Elm (we’d have to go to Brighton for that one!), Foxglove Tree, Gingko, Indian Bean, Medlar and Tulip Tree. We can bag all of those, I think.

While I’m on the subject of trees, did you see this BBC news report on Boxing Day? It’s about the sequencing of the Ash genome and the possibility that British trees are less susceptible to ash dieback disease.

And those Waxwings? There were about 20 of them last Sunday 5th January on a very red-berried tree  on Stanley Road between Lambeth Road and Fountains Road, near the junction of  Easby Road. A Redwing was on it too, and tried to see the Waxwings off, but without much success.

Public transport details: Bus number 1 from Sir Thomas Street towards Chester at 10.23, arriving New Chester Road / Tebay Road at 11.00. (The X8 also stops at that stop and is quicker). Returned on bus 1 from the stop opposite the one we arrived at, at 1.49, arriving Liverpool 2.15.

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First Coach Trip 2017

If you are planning to join us on our first Coach Trip of 2017 on Sun 22 Jan Shropshire Meres where we hope to see plenty of Winter wildfowl and woodland birds.


With Coach Secretary Seema Aggarwhal Tel: 07984 231059 or if no answer with Christine Barton Tel: 07854 776421


9.30 Rocket (Crimpers), 9.45 William Brown Street, 10.00 Conway Park, 10.15 Bromborough

Cost: £20.



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Parkgate, 18th December 2016

Our last meeting of the year was to Parkgate, not really for a walk, but for our Christmas lunch at the carvery at the Old Quay. We mooched slowly along from Mostyn Square to the restaurant, on  a lovely bright and sunny day with the tide coming in. There were great views over to the Flintshire coast and the “ghost ship” the Duke of Lancaster. A Ringtail Marsh Harrier headed seawards and soon a big flock of Lapwings came in.

We had our lunch, but declined the dessert in favour of an ice cream from the famous Nicholls of Parkgate. A Heron flew in and took up station by the main pool, hoping for good pickings at the turn of the tide at about 2pm.

The buses home from Parkgate are only two-hourly (1.30 or 3.30) so we walked up to Neston for the in-between bus at 2.36.

Happy Christmas to all, and here are some jolly Santa toys from Chester Market a few weeks ago.

Public transport details: Bus 487 from Sir Thomas Street at 10.29, arriving Parkgate Mostyn Square at 11.28. Returned from Neston Brook Street on the 487 at 2.36, arriving Liverpool 3.35.


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Croxteth Park, 11th December 2016


Along the mile from West Derby Village to Croxteth Hall we noted only Magpies, Goldfinches, half a dozen Canada Geese flying southwards and a Robin on fence. The fields on either side have rare breed cattle. The red hornless ones with white stripes along their backs are Irish Moiled Cattle, while the Highland Cattle are unmistakeable.



There‘s a Sweetgum tree Liquidambar styraciflua at the end of the Statue Pond, which bore only one or two spiky fruit last year but it’s full of them this year. They aren’t supposed to seed here (according to older tree books) because they originate from the much warmer southern USA. This summer’s weather has suited them very well it seems. Is it a sign of climate change?


There was an artisan craft fair at the Hall. We often see S & R birds at these sorts of events, and here they were again, with a Harris Hawk, a Barn Owl, an American Kestrel, an Eagle Owl and this smart little Burrowing Owl.


We lunched over by the Long Pond, where there were only Mallards and Moorhens. We got our binoculars onto an interesting tree on the far bank, with finely-divided rusty-red foliage, which seemed to be a deciduous conifer. It could only be Larch, a Dawn Redwood or a Swamp Cypress, but we couldn’t get closer to it to investigate further. There was, however, a splendid twiggy Lime at the entrance to the Country Park woodland. Most of the ones we see as street or park trees have their sprouting bases trimmed regularly, but this one has been left to proliferate. Chris F, whom we met as we went around, said it makes a marvellous habitat for invertebrates.


There were lots of Scots Pines in the woods, and many Jackdaws and Wood Pigeons. I have been looking for a Douglas Fir since my trip to Scotland, but still not found one. I know there’s at least one on Merseyside, because I remember Bob the Birdman picking up some of their distinctive cones somewhere and showing them to us, many moons ago. As we circled around back to the Hall we found another of the rusty-red trees by the side of the path that curves off eastward. It was definitely a Swamp Cypress, and is my Tree of the Day.


In other bird news, last week I heard that there are at least two Ring-necked Parakeets in Crosby. A pair has been seen coming to a garden peanut feeder just east of Hall Road Station, and one was spotted near Heathfield Road, Brighton-le-Sands about a month ago. I will be keeping an eye and ear out in Victoria Park!  Also, my garden has been graced by a regularly-visiting male Sparrowhawk in the last few weeks, and on Thursday it sat on the fence to be photographed.


Public transport details: Bus 13 from Queen Square at 10.09 towards Stockbridge Village, alighting West Derby Village 10.30. Returned from West Derby Village on the 13 bus at 1.52, arriving Liverpool 2.15.

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Eric Hardy Memorial Prize Winner


James Hill (centre) pictured with Dr Gina Hannon (left) and Prof Rob Marrs (right)

James Hill of the School Of Environmental Sciences, Liverpool University has been awarded the Eric Hardy Memorial Prize this year for his thesis ‘Continuity and disturbance as factors influencing species richness in Atlantic oak woodland.’ His fieldwork including random stratified species surveys and vegetation assessments in some of Snowdonia’s ancient and secondary woodlands earned him a distinction.

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Chester, 4th December 2016

We had planned to go to Ormskirk but the 10.10 train was cancelled at the last minute because of an “incident on board”. We didn’t fancy hanging about at Central for half an hour for the next one, so we made a spur-of-the-moment decision to go to Chester, its train leaving five minutes later. From early next year all the Wirral trains will be disrupted, so it may be our last chance for a while.


It was a frosty day with brilliant low sun. We headed down City Road, along the canal, down Russell Street and Dee Lane and entered Grosvenor Park at its north east corner. A Grey Squirrel was eating Sycamore seeds right off the tree.


My Tree of the Day was a probable Strawberry Tree next to the Belvedere. I don’t know them well enough to decide if it’s the native Arbutus unedo or the Hybrid Strawberry Tree Arbutus andrachnoides.


The bark was red, ridged and flaking like the Hybrid.


It had a sign underneath saying it was presented by the  Rotary Club in 2005. Even if it was a few years old at the time, it still looks much older than 11+ years. The Hybrid Strawberry Tree is said to be more vigorous than either parent, and it would need to be to attain this size, I think!


We lunched in the Rose Garden. In the trees opposite was a Persian Ironwood and a smallish Tulip Tree which bore masses of cones. It must have been magnificent when it was in flower.


We walked down to the River Dee and along the Groves, then up Souter’s Lane, noting the many scruffy Buddleia growing on the tall walls. Here’s another one just getting started.


Outside the Cathedral the Christmas Market was bustling. There was the usual knick-knackery for sale, but we were taken by the Christmas wreaths full of bird food. The large ones (below) were £10, and there were smaller ones for £6.


After a walk along the walls we dropped down to the canal again. Many Mallards had congregated under the bridge by the Lock Keeper pub. Was it warmer there, or had the rest of the canal frozen overnight?  Some drakes were inspired by the sunny day to start mating, rather unseasonably early.
A Feverfew was blooming along the wall.


There’s a Rowan tree along there, which doesn’t seem to be of the common sort Sorbus aucuparia because there are 27 leaflets on the leaves, many more than the normal 15 or so. Most of the many-leafleted Rowans have white berries, so I don’t know what this one is, but it’s pretty.


Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.15, arriving Chester 11.05. Returned on the 14.30 train, arriving Liverpool 3.20.

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Wirral Way, 27th November 2016


From Hooton station it’s 1½ miles each way to Hadlow Road station. The path was covered with oak leaves almost all the way along, and some leaves were still falling. The young trees retain their leaves for longer, though.


This young Turkey Oak also had some odd galls wrapped around the twigs. This singleton was the only one in reach, but higher up there was an overlapping cluster. I think they might be galls caused by the Cynipid wasp Aphelonyx cerricola. According to the monograph “Oak Galls in Britain” by Robin Williams of the Natural History Museum (2010)  they are classed as “rare”, although I also found some pictures of them from Sefton Park in April 2014.


It was very still and silent, and there weren’t many birds about, although the group saw four Jays while Margaret and I were inspecting the oak galls. It has been very frosty for the last two days so had all the birds decamped to urban heat islands?  But we spotted a Robin, a few Blackbirds in flight, and a small flock of Redwings on some thickly-berried Hawthorn bushes.


The hedges were festooned with necklaces of bright red Black Bryony berries. Why are they all still hanging there? Don’t birds eat them? I thought that’s what juicy red berries were for, to propagate the seeds via birds.


There were fresh molehills on the side of the path near Hadlow Road station, and a Sparrowhawk kill site very close to the car park. It looked like it had been a Wood Pigeon. Hadlow Road Station had the intermittent café open, but we had brought our own lunches, of course, and resisted the cream cakes.


This visiting small dog (called Tobi Kenobi !) bore a Christmas coat with a passenger attached.


In the hedge there were chirping sparrows.


Corpse of the Day was a dead Wood Mouse Apodemus sylvaticus.


We had a look around Willaston village and church.  There was a Grey Squirrel in the churchyard, and two Yew trees flanking the lych-gate. The Copper Beech on the green is one of the Great Trees of the Wirral, now showing only its pointy winter buds.


Outside the Old Hall was a winter-flowering tree Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’.


On the way back I looked at what I thought might be White Poplar trees, and confirmed them when I got home. Their leaf isn’t the typical “ace of spades” of many poplars, but three- or five-lobed, rather like a maple type, but they are downy on the underside, so fallen dead leaves show as either white or black. The bark is white, too, with rows of diamond patterns.


Next to the ramp up to the road by Hooton Station was a cluster of big dark fungi on the bank. They had dark gills, dark stems, and a light ring where the veil had been attached, but that’s as far as I can go !  Probably only Honey Fungus on a buried stump.


Public transport details: Train at 10.15 from Central, arriving Hooton at 10.41. Returned on the 14.29 train, arriving Central about 15.00.

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Freshfield, 20th November 2016


We headed down Victoria Road from the station, and into the NT reserve, which is a plantation of Scots Pines, managed for the Red Squirrels. There were plenty of them about, scampering along the ground and up the trees. Most of them are quite dark, nearly black, but we did see one redder one. This is one of the darker ones.


There were Squirrel feeding tables up on many of the trunks, protected from bigger birds by mesh cages. The little birds could get in, though, and we noted Nuthatch, Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit and Robin. Bigger birds were Carrion Crows, one or two Jays, a Woodpecker which we heard drumming in distance and Wood Pigeons, which seemed to be following the Red Squirrels from feeder to feeder, hoping to pick up bits of dropped nuts.

After lunch we walked around part of the Asparagus trail, which has been set up to celebrate the local specialty. There’s even a wood carving of Jimmy Lowe, the Asparagus King of the 1930s.



The car park was flooded after the heavy rains of the last few days, and the fence had attracted a Lesser Black-backed Gull and several BHGs.


The isolated Scots Pines near the beach are very picturesquely windswept and truncated.


We returned through a woodland of Birch, Grey Poplar, Sycamore. These trees were also rather twisted and stunted by the coastal winds, and would be rather magical after snowfall.


The leaves on some trees have still not fallen, including this young Oak.


Public transport details: Train from Central towards Southport, arriving Freshfield station at 10.52. Returned from Freshfield at 2.11, due at Central 2.44.

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MNA Coach Trip Leighton Moss RSPB 13th November 2016

An exceedingly memorable conclusion to our coach trip programme for 2016. We visited one of our favourite RSPB Reserves at Leighton Moss and members were rewarded by some fantastic sightings.

ChrisB and I quickly headed off the coach and through the small patch of woodland hearing Great Spotted Woodpecker before walking along the causeway. We barely had to wait a minute at the grit tables when there was the characteristic ‘pinging’ from the surrounding reeds heralding the arrival of a male moustachioed Bearded Tit. The colour ring leg combination was Left: Orange over Blue, Right: Green over White. A female soon descended onto a tray also colour ringed Left: Orange over Yellow, Right: Green over White. Beardies usually eat insects during the summer – a protein rich source of food that helps growing youngsters but as autumn approaches they change their diet to seeds. The grit enables them to digest the seeds in their crop which means that they don’t have to migrate south and can stay at Leighton Moss all year round.

We continued down the causeway a Great White Egret flying low overhead, six Carrion Crows hanging around on the path before flying to an adjacent bare tree and a Buzzard flying away from us.

In Public Hide the selection and numbers of Wildfowl was stunning, Shoveler over 40 males + 20 females, Pintail 7m 3f, Teal 60+, Wigeon 12+, Gadwall 60+, Coot, Canada Goose 8, Greylag Goose 7, Mute Swan pair + 7 cygs, Moorhen, Pochard 8+, Cormorant 1, Goosander redhead, Little Egret, BHG etc. A Grey Heron chased a Great White Egret within 5m of the hide, a Bittern glided low over the reeds before landing again, a Marsh Harrier quartered the reeds putting many of the Teal and a handful of Snipe to flight, a bird caught my eye flitting around at the base of the reed edge but proved to be a Robin and a Wren flitted amongst the small patch of reeds in front of the hide giving a burst of song.

As we continued along the causeway nine Snipe circled overhead calling and sounding very like Redwing and the odd Cetti’s was chuntering in the reeds. We entered the more wooded area heading along to Lower Hide. A few dozy Pheasants stalking around the undergrowth – one tame individual took some seed from John Clegg’s hand – a few Blue, Great, Coal Tits, Goldcrest, a male Bullfinch, a feeding party of around twenty Siskin and later some chacking Fieldfare.

We entered Lower Hide and were soon onto the star bird of the day a male American Wigeon, who has been dabbling in front of the hide in the company of its Eurasian cousins for a couple of weeks. One of the RSPB volunteers had his scope trained on the bird and we were able to appreciate the iridescent green eye mask and striking white head stripe. He had seen Otter from the hide earlier that day. Yet more wildfowl with Tufty and seven Curlew overhead added to the list. We were treated to another great view of Bittern unusually flying quite high for a distance over the reeds before dropping down.


Blushing Bracket

After the birding excitement we were able to note the various Fungi species with Jelly Ear Auricularia auricula-judae – a handful of which ChrisB picked for some culinary experimentation, Blushing Bracket Daedaleopsis confragosa, Candlesnuff Fungus Xylaria hypoxylon, Leafy Brain Tremella foliacea – a fine specimen in exactly the same spot as our visit in Nov 2014, Velvet Shank Flammulina velutipes, Coral Spot Nectria cinnabarina, Oysterling Crepidotus sp. Bleeding Broadleaf Crust Stereum rugosum, Purple Jellydisc Ascocoryne sarcoides and various Mycenas.


Leafy Brain

Heading back down the causeway we heard a Green Sandpiper and a Cettis gave a brief chuntering song again. The light was already going as we wandered through the mature woodland heading along to Tim Jackson Hide. Small piles of bird seed on various fallen logs were attracting a variety of visitors with plenty of Coal Tits, Blue Tit, Great Tit, inquisitive Robins, Prune, Blackbird, with a Nuthatch circling in one tree and a Treecreeper in an adjacent tree. With a bit of patience we were able to get good views of a Marsh Tit coming down to the seeds.

On approaching Tim Jackson hide there were a couple of squealing Water Rails in the adjacent reeds with one particularly vociferous porcine individual. More Teal, Gadwall, a Shoveler and Mallard along with half a dozen Snipe. A female Marsh Harrier hunted out the back of the pools where a Little Egret and Great White Egret were standing. The Great White flew directly at us and landed close to the hide. It strutted around the shallows wiggling its feet in the hopes of disturbing small fish like its little cousin is often observed doing. When the rapid gunfire from the photographer’s clicking cameras became too much we continued around to Grizedale Hide. A couple of Cormorants were resting in a tree, another Little Egret and a couple of Pheasants with pale wings that Chris thought maybe one of the Central Asian subspecies.


Pipistrelle Bats

Returned to the visitor centre and popped into the adjacent education room where a few desiccated Common Pipistrelles Pipistrellus pipistrellus made Corpse Of The Day.

And from my back garden – because every blog should have a magical frog ;o)


If you are interested in the wildlife of the north-west of England and would like to join the walks and coach trips run by the Merseyside Naturalists’ Association, see the main MNA website for details of our programme and how to join us.

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