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gambell birding

Paul Lehman has been on Gambell since mid-August and during that time has racked up some astonishing birds, not least a first for North America in the shape of a Pallas's Leaf Warbler. Follow his latest diary postings below to experience some of the excitement. Paul is a a senior leader for WINGS, where he specializes in North American tours (including Gambell).

See the Gambell and Shemya Fall 2006 Photo Gallery with photos from Gambell by Gary Rosenberg and Shemya by Robert Martinka >>

September 30, 2006

Good thing I am still here: late this morning--Saturday the 30th--I had a RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL (in the far boneyard). This is the first record north of the Pribilofs. There are previous fall records for at least Attu and St. Paul. (I had seen several previously at Attu.) Like other Bluetails I've seen, this bird was VERY skittish!! I'll say more about the furtive behavior of many of the landbirds here in my final, summary posting.

Today began with light ENE winds, becoming stronger NE; I had been hoping for ESE, which can be excellent for North American mainland wanderers, and even some Asian passerines have arrived on those winds in the past. There is currently a strong storm in the southern Bering Sea, with strong west winds in the w. Aleutians...

Also present today was a beautiful white Gyrfalcon (video'd), the third or fourth so-colored bird I've seen here over the years.

Yesterday's White Wagtail is still present today, but no sign (yet) of the Siberian Accentor. (I've now seen NINE accentors here at Gambell in autumn since 1999.) Seawatching produced Spectacled Eider, Red-necked Grebe, a trickle of Yellow-billed Loons, and a large increase in kittiwake numbers (typical at the end of September.)

Speaking of the end of September, if you are wondering what landbirding is like here this late in the season, well, it is somewhat limited! Regular species seen daily include some ravens, a few Snow Buntings, and both species of redpolls in a few flocks. That's it! Even the Lapland Longspurs are gone! So, any other passerine is "good"--either rare or late--and I often see one or two "other" such birds per day (as long as one isn't stuck in a northerly wind rut), rarely more. So it is definitely "quality," not "quantity," at this time of year! Such would be the case to an even greater degree if birders stayed here through the first half of October. Probably some very good birds turn up then, but there is likely a BUNCH of "dead" time, too! Although seabirding undoubtedly continues excellent well into the latter fall (e.g, lots of Spectacled Eiders, some Ross's Gulls, etc.).

A birder currently up in Barrow had a very-wayward Harris's Sparrow there that got eaten by a somewhat-wayward Northern Shrike!

September 29, 2006

Today, Friday the 29th, with a light WSW breeze and the snow-covered Russian mountains shimmering in the distance, we had a spiffy SIBERIAN ACCENTOR (actually, all Siberian Accentors pretty much look the same--and they are ALL spiffy!), which I got good video of. (The bird is in the far boneyard and adjoining lower slope of the mountain.) Also an arriving immature WHITE WAGTAIL (video'd), the second one here this fall and by far the latest one I've ever had here.

In other news the past few days, the PALLAS'S "DUO" both remained through Tuesday, but both were gone on Wednesday, so the bunting ended up staying three days, the warbler two. There's been a fall-arrival molting adult Black Guillemot, a "mixed-sparrow flock" consisting of a "Slate-colored" Junco and 2 Am. Tree Sparrows, another Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 3 Short-eared Owls, a nice count for late September of 22 Pacific Golden-Plovers and 5 Slaty-backed Gulls, and Short-tailed Shearwaters offshore still number up to 200,000 per day.

Birder Bob D. from New Jersey chased the two Pallas's here but arrived too late. His consolation prize was seeing the accentor and wagtail today.

Due to the wind forecast, I will probably leave as scheduled on Sunday PM. If nothing else great turns up here my last two days (in which case I will post from here)

Pallas's Warbler at Gambell, Alaska, 25 September. This is the first North American record. © Gary Rosenberg September 25, 2006

This is NOT a typo. The PALLAS'S BUNTING continues today (Monday) for its second day, with even better photos taken, and in mid-afternoon Gary and I discovered North America's first PALLAS'S (LEAF-)WARBLER!!!!!! We got reasonable photos (Gary) and video (me) to document this first-ever record. (For those of you who know Gambell, the bunting is in the Near Boneyard, and the warbler is in the Circular Boneyard.) Gary will be posting photos of both birds on "surfbirds.com" (under North American breaking news) by late tonight, I beleive, from the Anchorage airport. A little over an hour after we found the warbler he had to leave the island and head home to Tucson. I am now the sole birder here through Sunday, when I am scheduled to finally leave (or perhaps a few days later if the weather looks promising...).

The Pallas's Leaf-Warbler was #200 for me at Gambell!!! A nice one!

Seems silly to mention other birds today, but we did have a number of other new arrivals, in light north winds and 37-degree light rain and wet snow all day long...: a late Eastern Yellow-Wagtail, 2 Short-eared Owls, Ruby-crowned Kinglet (very rare but annual), Orange-crowned Warbler (rare and annual, but quite late), 2 Golden-crowned and 1 White-crowned Sparrow.

At Shemya, in the western Aleutians, there was a EURASIAN HOBBY on Sunday.

September 24, 2006

Well, each of the past three years I tell people before coming to Gambell in the fall that my "most wanted" bird is anything that begins with the name "Pallas's": Pallas's Bunting, Pallas's Grasshopper-Warbler, or Pallas's (Leaf-) Warbler. Well today (Sept 24) we found a

Pallas's Bunting at Gambell, Alaska, 24 September. This is the fifth record for Alaska and North America, the previous coming from here (in June, many years ago), Nome, Barrow, and Buldir © Gary Rosenberg

PALLAS'S BUNTING and got great photos and video of it. Gary will post some to the surfbirds.com website later today. This is the fifth record for Alaska and North America, the previous coming from here (in June, many years ago), Nome, Barrow, and Buldir.

Other news the past three days includes a second-year KAMCHATKA Mew Gull (photos of it also posted on "Surfbirds") the past two days (third fall record here), Snowy Owl, Spectacled Eider, the second CHIPPING Sparrow this fall (the 12th record now for Gambell in fall--silly!), and 3 White-crowned Sparrows.

The last full day at Attu for the Attu Cruise folks produced a YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER, the third record for North America. The previous two records are both from here at Gambell in fall. The cruise then also had super seabirding west of Attu, with more Short-tailed Albatrosses (incl. an adult) and Mottled Petrels, and in RUSSIAN waters, about a dozen dark pterodromas identified as Solander's.

September highlights at Shemya include 3 Baikal Teal and 3 Garganeys, but still very slow on the landbirds there.

September 20, 2006

One of the more surprising results of all the time I have spent out here at Gambell in the fall since the late 1990s is the discovery of a substantial number of North American strays here that weren't only "just" from the Alaska mainland but which came from even much farther east or south--species that are casual anywhere in Alaska. Over these recent years here that list now includes Bullock's Oriole, Black-headed Grosbeak, Common Nighthawk, Least

Philadelphia Vireo at Gambell, Alaska, 18 September. This is the fourth record for Alaska and the first for the Bering Sea © Gary Rosenberg

Flycatcher, Nashville, Tennessee, Magnolia, and Palm warblers, American Redstart, Clay-colored Sparrow, and Purple Finch. And now add PHILADELPHIA VIREO, which appeared here on 18 September. This constitutes the fourth record for Alaska, and the first anywhere close to here! We got great photos and video of the bird, which are posted on the "Surfbirds" website (along with some of the other recent photo'd highlights, such as Siberian Rubythroat, N. Flicker, Chipping Sparrow, the regular Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Pacific Golden-Plovers, etc.).

We are still being plagued by 25-30+ mph north winds, which hopefully will abate starting Friday. Other highlights the past couple days include now two Gyrfalcons in the area, Red-necked Grebes, Short-eared Owls, continuing masses of Short-tailed Shearwaters but "only" in the hundreds of thousands, and a record late-date for Gray-cheeked Thrush. Over in Nome, there was a recent wayward Red-breasted Nuthatch.

News from this fall's cruise to Attu includes 7+ Short-tailed Albatrosses and some Mottled Petrels--plus the Aleutian's first Red-breasted Nuthatch--on the cruise westward, and a Baikal Teal and Spotted Redshank on the island itself.

September 16, 2006

Who knows the words to that favorite old tune called "I've Got Those North Wind Blues"? We've had moderate to fairly strong north winds and partly cloudy skies now for three days, and are forecast to have them for at least another three or four. Not a good combination for landbirds, at all! But they are good for seawatching and in producing huge numbers of Short-tailed Shearwaters annually during this part of September. Yesterday's 800,000 birds seemed like a lot, but then today (17 Sept) we arrived at the point soon after dawn to the sight of masses of Short-taileds passing at the rate of 100+ PER SECOND, and this went on solidly for four straight hours until their numbers dropped off to about a quarter of that for the entire rest of the day. So we came up with an estimate of 1.6 MILLION Short-tailed Shearwaters! My previous high count was 1.2 million on 20 September 2003 (for which I was accused by some other observers present as low-balling the total), and we regularly get 500,000-700,000 daily counts each year on a number of days. Gives one an idea of the biological productivity of the northern Bering Sea--particularly when you add in the millions of alcids that nest on the island, etc., etc.

Also arriving on these north winds were several Spectacled Eiders, Yellow-billed Loon, and a tan-brown Gyrfalcon. We get a couple Gyrs every year in the latter half of September.

Spectacled Eider, Alaska, Gambell 9/17/2006 © Gary Rosenberg. A flyby at the northwest point - this species becomes very common here later in the fall.

Other highlights the past few days include another McKay's Bunting, an adult Thayer's Gull (third island record), an American Tree Sparrow (very rare but almost annual), more Kittlitz's and Ancient Murrelets, Red-necked Grebe (rare but annual), and a smithsonianus Herring Gull (also about one per fall; "Vega" Herrings are common here).

I'll finish this particular update with a depraved statisitic: this past Thursday marked the 365th day I have spent at Gambell over the years, since my first visit in 1989 (49 total days in spring, the rest in fall). My one-year birthday!

September 14, 2006

September 14th and finally a very good landbird day! A PECHORA PIPIT (incredibly, the 9th here in just the past four autumns) and a male SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT (second fall record here) were certainly the headliners. We had nice mid-level overcast and calm to light

Male Siberian Rubythroat at Gambell, Alaska, 14 September. This is the second fall record for Gambel © Gary Rosenberg

east breeze, following 2-1/2 days of strong south wind that produced little. In addition to the two Asian goodies, we had some good Alaska mainland wanderers, plus a migrant WHITE Wagtail present for its second day, and the "Yellow-shafted" FLICKER continues as well. The new mainland birds were CHIPPING Sparrow (there are now a very surprising 10+ records here in fall, given what the normal range of this species is), Pine Siskin, Sooty Fox Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, 2 White-crowned Sparrows, and a Savannah Sparrow.

A pipit influx today brought 6 new Red-throateds and 5 japonicus American Pipits.

Also record late dates for Western Sandpiper and ADULT Sabine's Gull. The southerly winds yesterday brought a FORK-TAILED STORM-PETREL--casual this far north--and two dark-morph Fulmars, very rare this far north (light-morph birds are common here).

Unfortunately, the winds are supposed to pick up to 30-35 mph out of the N/NE the next two days, which is usually good only for seabirding.

September 12, 2006

It is late on September 12, and we've gotten a few mainland Alaskan wanderers headlined by a "Yellow-shafted" Flicker on September 11, the second island record and my first at Gambell (bringing my perverse Gambell list up to 197...). Also a "Slate-colored" Junco (only

Northern Flicker, Alaska, Gambell 9/11/2006 © Gary Rosenberg Second record for Saint Lawrence Island

my fifth here), and a "Red" Fox Sparrow (not quite annual). Other assorted species include a McKay's Bunting, another Arctic Loon, more Kittlitz's and Ancient Murrelets, and a DARK-morph Northern Fulmar (a very rare visitor from the southern Bering Sea/Aleutians).
Given that the migration of trans-Beringian passerines is just about over, I thought I'd list the totals for each species below, August 11- Sept 11:

Arctic Warbler: 109 (a new record) Bluethroat: 20 (slightly above average) Northern Wheatear: 142 (above average) Gray-cheeked Thrush: 5 (low) Eastern Yellow Wagtail: 228 (probably about average) Red-throated Pipit: 10 (below average) japonicus pipit: 4 (slightly below average)

September 10, 2006

Today we finally removed the goose-egg from our season's Asian landbird total, with the appearance of 3 Bramblings. The past several days have seen moderate to strongish north winds, which is good for seawatching, and we've had up to 250,000 Short-tailed Shearwaters per day, 1700+ Red Phalaropes, 2 more Kittlitz's Murrelets, 4 more Ancient Murrelets, up to 400,000 Crested Auklets per day, plus daily small numbers of Sabine's Gulls and Arctic Terns (including my latest-ever ADULTS through yesterday). Also had my latest-ever Red-necked Phalarope a couple days ago. Winds are supposed to go Southwest the next three days here, so we're hoping...

On Sep 8 I had an American Wigeon with 11 Eurasian Wigeon, the first fall record ever of an American on the island (yes, I know you are all excited!!).

Other miscellanea include about another dozen Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, one more Gray-tailed Tattler, a few more Red-throated Pipits (but still only a mediocre year for them), two Golden-crowned Sparrows (rare but regular visitor in fall), and a Rough-legged Hawk.

The major storm (former super-typhoone IOKE) that hit the western Aleutians on Weds/Thurs produced very little at Shemya--just a few minor shorebirds (Long-toed Stint being the best). Disappointing.

September 6, 2006

Today is Sept. 6, and we have been kept inside much of the day by rain and moderately strong wind that combine to give one a free exfoliating facial. Winds are supposed to be up to 40 knots the next two days, mostly out of the north, which should produce a good seabird show. (There are already Red Phalaropes, Sabine's Gull, and feeding frenzies of kittiwakes and Short-tailed Shearwaters right along the beach today.)

Two days ago we had a juv Lesser Sand-Plover, the fourth individual of this fall, plus a Buff-breasted Sandpiper (still present yesterday), which is very rare to casual in the Bering Sea, and a very lost Pine Siskin, also casual in the Bering Sea region. Other miscellaneous birds

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Alaska, Gambell 9/10/2006 © Gary Rosenberg Regular in small numbers at Gambell

include 8 more Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, 5 more Red-throated Pipits, a couple more japonicus American Pipits, 7 Slaty-backed Gulls in one day, continuing Red-necked Stint and Gray-tailed Tattlers, both Arctic and Yellow-billed Loons, and a couple White-crowned Sparrows (one of the most regular of mainland visitors).

Many of you have probably noticed by now that we have yet to find a rare landbird from Asia this season, which is an unfortunate surprise. By now there should have been at least several. But I hear that a researcher out at Shemya, in the western Aleutians, is also having a very slow autumn for Asian strays so far (only getting a few of the very standard Asian shorebirds so far), although a major storm did hit there today...

September 2, 2006

We are currently fog-bound at Gambell on Saturday morning, Sep 2, so can't go out seawatching. On Aug 30th, in fairly strong north winds, we had over 100 Emperor Geese go by the point, which is very predictable during good northerly winds in late Aug/early Sep. Also an Ancient Murrelet--a rare-but-regular visitor from the south--plus Steller's Eiders, Sabine's Gulls, Arctic Terns, etc. Also that day, 2 Eurasian Wigeon and a Wilson's Warbler, a very rare by basically annual wanderer from the mainland. On the 31st there was another hudsonicus Whimbrel plus more Bluethroats and Wheatears (numbers of the latter are near a record this year), plus the first push of Gray-cheeked Thrushes of the season. And on Sep 1, a long-staying juv Red-necked Stint continues, setting a new local late date, and we had FOUR juvenile Gray-tailed Tattlers, a new one-day high count, plus the second Kittlitz's Murrelet of the season.

Weather forecast calls for an extended, multi-day period of moderate to strong southerly winds blowing all the way from the southern Bering Sea and beyond, so, while that won't be good for lots of birds here, it might well bring us something interesting from one direction or the other...

August 29, 2006

It's Tuesday evening at Gambell. Yesterday there was a very lost Red-breasted Nuthatch, casual in the Bering Sea region. And several new shorebirds: an (Old World) Common Snipe (third fall reord here) and yet another new juvenile Gray-tailed Tattler and Red-necked Stint. Today it was very windy with stinging light rain, but the poor weather dropped new shorebirds, including three juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, as well as a flock of 20 Emperor Geese.

August 27, 2006

Greetings mid-day Sunday. Dribs and drabs at Gambell the past few days, highlighted on August 24 by a fly-by Bristle-thighed Curlew (3rd bird this fall) and juv Lesser Sand-Plover (also third this fall). The fourth Gray-tailed Tattler of this season on August 26, plus two more hudsonicus Whimbrels. Lapland Longspurs gathering up their courage near the point

Pacific Golden-Plover, Alaska, Gambell 9/10/2006 © Gary Rosenberg Regular fall migrant at Gambell

yesterday totaled 800 birds, and this morning there was a huge Crested Auklet flight totaling 600,000 birds in just two hours. More fine feeding frenzies involving shearwaters, kittiwakes, and murres within FIFTY feet of shore. A few more Steller's Eiders and Yellow-billed Loon. Whale numbers up to 20 or more at once.

Today we have SE winds and a Northern Waterthrush turned up, the third fall record for the island and one of only about 5 or 6 for the offshore Bering Sea. Still reasonable numbers of Wheatears (20-30 per day), with smaller numbers of Arctic Warblers and Bluethroats daily.

August 23, 2006

It is Wednesday evening, and the past few days have quieted down here at Gambell. The large flood of passerine migrants on the 20th almost all departed the very next evening, although Northern Wheatear numbers continue good. The really big news the past few days has been the.....drum roll, please.......MALLARD! Only the second fall record here. OK, almost all of you would undoubtedly have preferred seeing the juvenile Lesser Sand-Plover on August 21, the third juvenile Red-necked Stint of the season on August 22, or the additional Steller's Eiders, Sabine's Gulls, etc. The first "japonicus" American Pipit of the season appeared yesterday. A total of 8 or 9 Slaty-backed Gulls has been seen.

For those who have never witnessed the seabird spectacle here, it really is worth seeing at least once in one's lifetime. The composition changes as the season progresses (and is somewhat different between fall and spring). There are currently large feeding frenzies going on the past few days just a few hundred feet offshore, with hundreds and hundreds of kittiwakes and Short-tailed Shearwaters diving into the water, as groups of murres and puffins join in, and several Gray Whales churn through the masses close to shore, with a number of Humpbacks farther out. Murre numbers total about 100,000 Commons and 30,000 Thick-billed per day, with up to 10,000 Short-tailed Shearwaters per day (shearwater numbers will rise greatly in September to six figures daily). The total alcid nesting population on this island has been variably estimated to be somewhere between 7-10 MILLION, with the most common species being Least and Crested Auklets, followed by the two murres, Parakeet Auklet, the two puffins, Pigeon Guillemot, and then, lastly, a handful of Dovekies. Kittlitz's Murrelet might conceivably nest in small numbers on the scree slopes of the interior mountains.

August 20, 2006

Greetings late on Sunday the 20th. Today I had a juvenile Common Ringed Plover, my third juv at Gambell in fall (previous two in late August 1999); there also is one additional such record by others. This bird was quite tame, so I shot lots of point-blank video of it. Last night and early this morning there were light NE winds--and overcast--becoming calm, and I had a total of 74 Arctic Warblers today, more than doubling my previous single-day maximum. I literally was flushing mini-waves of Arctic Warblers ahead of me in the boneyards. Also had 65 Northern Wheatears, 6 Bluethroats, 97 Ea. Yellow Wagtails, but only a single Red-throated Pipit.

Also today there was a Kittlitz's Murrelet at the point (I average one sighting per season). Yesterday I saw two new juvenile Gray-tailed Tattlers. And researcher Lisa Sheffield had a Black Turnstone back in the beginning of August at the other village on the island--Savoonga--40 miles east of here. This species is casual in the offshore Bering Sea, and I have yet to see one here.

August 19, 2006

On August 18 here at Gambell I had a juvenile Long-toed Stint (briefly video'd) and an adult Sharp-tailed Sandpiper in the same small grassy marsh. The stint is the second fall record for Gambell and the northern/central Bering Sea (the other was in Aug 1999), and the Sharp-tailed was the first ADULT I've ever seen here. Sharp-taileds are regular, uncommon fall migrants (but are strictly casual/accidental in spring), but they tend to be 99.9 percent juveniles. (I had seen one fall adult previously on the Pribilofs, at the same time in August a number of years ago).

Other shorebirds included another juv. Red-necked Stint on Aug 17 and a juvenile Gray-tailed Tattler (video'd) on Aug 16, my earliest fall arrival for a juvenile by a solid week. (Gray-taileds occur annually in very small numbers.)

Following the passage of a front late yesterday the winds shifted to NNE and went to 30mph, which brought the first OK wave of "trans-Beringian" passerines (heading back west to the Old World for the winter): 30 Northern Wheatears, 20 Ea. Yellow Wagtails, 7 Arctic Warblers, 2 Bluethroats, 2 Red-throated Pipits.

Lastly, 2 Dovekies continue, there are now 5 Slaty-backed Gulls, and one Sabine's Gull (scarce) flew by.

August 16, 2006

Greetings and salutations.
Yesterday (8/15) I had a bright, fresh juvenile Curlew Sandpiper, which was last seen heading south and could not be refound later in the day. This seems somewhat early for a juvenile (but who really knows in this part of the world!); I gather the earliest juvenile for Oregon is about 20 August, and for California is about 27 August. Anybody know of any earlier juvs for North America? And today, 16 August, there was an adult Lesser Sand-Plover, plus another hudsonicus Whimbrel.

Also today there was a relatively small AM flight of 153 Pomarine Jaegers in two hours (we've had as many as 770 in a 24-hour period in late Aug/early Sep). Other things of slight interest yesterday was a Baird's Sandpiper (scarce) and the first Steller's Eiders and Yellow-billed Loon of the season. This morning, the first small flocks of Lapland Longspurs were trying to get up the courage to launch themselves off the point for their return flight to Russia--but as often happens, they chicken out after just a few hundred feet or yards out over the water.

By the way, "life is complete" for me now. I have experienced it all! Yesterday on the radio I heard The Chipmunks singing The Beatles at Gambell. There is nothing left to live for!

August 15, 2006

And a happy Tuesday morning to all....
Best new bird the past couple days here at Gambell were the two Bristle-thighed Curlews on Sunday evening. Third Gambell and fourth island fall records, all from August, but my first-ever here. Also one hudsonicus Whimbrel (my third ever in fall). There are still at least 3 Dovekies up in the auklet colony on the side of the mountain, several "sub-adult" Slaty-backed Gulls are hanging around, and my first Bluethroat (a regular fall migrant in fair numbers) of the season showed up on the 14th. Seawatching yesterday produced 10,000 Parakeet Auklets, my highest count ever. There appear to be NO White Wagtails present this year, which is probably not surprising given that there was only one bird around sporadically this past spring.

As for the Common Nighthawk (and yes, it is a Common, and not some other species...) it was still present yesterday and I finally got some good video of it. Turns out it has been present since at least 2 August, and possibly back into late July. It would seem that it is quite possible that it actually "summered" here rather than it being "just" an early fall migrant. It is somewhat heartening to have quite a few local residents come up to me and tell me about "that strange brown bird with the white wing patches we've been seen for weeks now at the dump. What is it and where is it from?"

Shorebird and passerine migrant numbers low the past couple days. A fair amount of fog.

August 13, 2006

Despite all the airport delays with increased security, I arrived here at Gambell only a half-day late and was most pleased to discover that the Common Nighthawk is still here (since the 6th). Probably around 1000 miles out of range. Spends most of its time hiding in the gravel near the dump/sewage pond. Otherwise a juv Red-necked Stint (though shorebird diversity only mediocre overall) and my first-ever-in-fall Greater White-fronted Goose. The alcid show off the point is one of the best I've ever seen here, with huge numbers of auklets still feeding young. Also at least a dozen Humpbacks off the point. A fine wildflower display (probably given my early arrival) and nice numbers of Long-tailed Jaegers patrolling the tundra. Given early date, migrant passerines in low numbers, with just a few Arctic Warblers, Red-throated Pipits, and wheatears, but up to 60 Ea. Yellow Wagtails per day. Temps between mid-40s and low 50s.

See the Gambell and Shemya Fall 2006 Photo Gallery with photos from Gambell by Gary Rosenberg and Shemya by Robert Martinka >>

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