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The Pantanal and Brazilian Amazon, Aug/Sept 2015


janzin
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As usual, I'm a bit behind in my trip report and I thought the time to do it is now, before I leave on my next trip (India, in February.) As before, I don't keep a day by day journal and so this report will likely be a few anecdotes and lots of photos :)

 

The Prologue: This was our 2nd trip to the Pantanal; the first, in 2006, was before the jaguar "tourist industry" really was in full force, and at that time we didn't even consider the possibility of seeing jaguar (although our guide for that trip, Paulo Boute, did tell us it was possible "further down the highway.") We had a great trip, and fell in love with the area, and the ease of bird photography! But back then, we didn't venture further along the Transpantaneira then about half-way. So for this trip, heading all the way to Porto Jofre, and finding jaguar was the primary goal!

 

We attempted to hire Paulo Boute again, but he was already fully booked for our preferred time period. (Keep in mind, we were inquiring over one full year ahead--in July 2014!) We really wanted to go late August 2015, as late August into September is the prime period for jaguars. Looking around for another option, I contacted Pantanal Jaguar Safaris. http://www.pantanaljaguarsafaris.com/ I selected them based partly on the fact that they were locals, but also trained biologists, and they seemed to be well versed in birds as well as mammals. I was immediately very happy with their communication and didn't hesitate to go forward with them...it was a great decision. I'll say more about them at the end of the report; but the company consists of a husband and wife: Andre, who is a native Brazilian, and Leen, his wife, from Belgium. Both do the guiding, and Leen does the back-office work and organization.

 

Since flights to Brazil are long and expensive for us, we'd also decided we wanted to visit a 2nd location. We'd been to Iguazu on our previous trip, and after much back and forth with Leen, looking into adding the southern Pantanal, or Emas National Park, or...we settled on ending our trip at Cristalino Jungle Lodge, in the Amazon.

 

In the end our dates were determined by who had rooms available when---the Porto Jofre Hotel and Cristalino were already very booked for this time period and we only had very few dates we could choose from. This was our final itinerary:

 

Arrive 8/24 in Cuiaba

1 night Curicaca Lodge

2 nights Pouso Alegre

4 nights Porto Jofre Hotel

1 night Piuval Lodge

Fly Cuiaba to Alta Floresta

4 nights Cristalino Lodge

Fly back to Cuiaba, overnight at Hits Pantanal Hotel

September 6 Fly home

 

Our original flight was to arrive in the morning, and we'd have a full afternoon to drive to our first lodging. Unfortunately, Delta changed the schedule and we were not to arrive until almost 4 p.m. By the time we got to the Transpantaneira it was dusk, and there was not much opportunity for photos.

 

The shot everyone takes, although this was actually taken on our way out many days later as the light was wrong on the way in!

 

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It felt amazing to be back here! We did make a few stops and the pools filled with egrets, herons, ibis and storks immediately brought back how much we loved this place!

 

But the real birding would have to wait until tomorrow, as it was nearly dark.

 

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Edited by janzin
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I almost didn't believe you when you mentioned you would try doing this report before India - very glad you've started! Not only does everyone take that shot everyone seems to take it on the way out like you - I did as well. Very much looking forward to your fabulous bird pictures especially!

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haha well @@michael-ibk it was your prompting that got me started, finally! Its actually starting that's the hard part. :lol:

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A bit on our first lodge, Curicaca. Leen had recommended it for two reasons; first, its pretty much the first lodge you come to along the road and as we'd be arriving late, that made sense. Also, It was never a fazenda (ranch) and was built as a lodge, and its several km off the main road, so there is stil forest surrounding it. We couldn't find much info on it, they don't even have a web site as far as I can see. Anyway, it was a nice enough place, very homey feeling; the owner cooked us a whole roasted chicken for dinner, it felt like something they'd cook for family. But definitely a place for a one night stay.

 

Unfortunately for some reason that first night I had one of the worst headaches of my life--I'm not sure why, possibly the flight and the drugs I'd taken, but i was up most of the night. This gave me the opportunity to hear several owls calling in the night, although I could not really appreciate it with my pounding head. Luckily the headache abated by morning. We started the day by birding around the lodge, which brought some nice photo opportunities.

 

This Linneated Woodpecker was occupying a nest hole right by our room. Most likely there were eggs inside, as we never heard any peeping of chicks.

 

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There were also several Black-fronted Nunbirds that lived on the property and were not shy at all.

 

 

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Unfortunately, the resident Potoos WERE shy...we saw Great Potoo here on a day roost, but he absolutely refused to turn his head, so my photos are not worth posting :angry:

 

As we drove away from the lodge in the morning, we couldn't believe our eyes when we saw a young Tapir bathing in a small muddy pool right next to the road! Not bad luck for our first morning.

 

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As he exited the pool, we noticed he had a small wound on his butt. Perhaps that's why he was soaking in broad daylight. Clearly a caiman had caught a bit of him.

 

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We drove back to the Transpantaneira and headed for Pouso Alegre, our lodging for the next two nights. Now our birding can begin in earnest.

Edited by janzin
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Because we'd been to the Pantanal before, and our main goal was jaguar, we didn't spend too many days along the Transpantaneira. But we did want to spend at least a couple of days on the way down in the hopes of finding a few specialty birds that we'd missed the last time. The clear choice to stay was Pouso Alegre, which is well-known for its nesting Hyacinth Macaws. This is a pretty rustic fazenda, and it hadn't changed at all since 2006, except that it now had much better air-conditioning, and the food wasn't as good as it was back then. Oh yes, the other thing that was different is that in 2006 we were the only tourists there--this time, the place was packed, with a large birding tour group one night, and other groups the other night...the word is out.

 

Its a very birdy area and just hanging around the grounds in the morning one can get a lot of great photos. Of course the Hyacinth Macaws didn't disappoint.

 

 

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And these Chestnut-eared Aracaris were just hanging in the papaya tree.

 

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And there are lots of woodpeckers.

 

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One that I'd really wanted a good photo of, which I hadn't gotten in previous trips to Brazil, was the Campo Flicker. Around Pouso Alegre they are quite tame.

 

 

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A few other assorted birds from the grounds. (Bird names are in the frames.)

 

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This next bird, the Rufuous Hornero, is very, very common in the Pantanal. And there were many with nests at Pouso Alegre. It's mud nest looks a bit like an oven, hence the name "Hornero" which means oven in Spanish (although of course they speak Portuguese in Brazil ;) )

 

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You may be wondering, where are all the water birds that the Pantanal is famous for? The Kingfishers, the Herons, etc? Well, Pouso Alegre is actually a fairly dry area in the dry season. There are pockets of water but most of the marshes are a bit further south. But we'll get to the water birds in a bit, don't worry.

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Great start with Pantanal Jaguar Safaris. Sorry about that headache. Those are no fun. At least you heard some owls. Beautiful birds and a swimming tapir to start you off.

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In the afternoon we took a drive around the vast grounds (this was a sprawling cattle ranch at one time.) We soon came upon a rather large group of at least 8 or 10 coati and spent a long time following them around. One nice thing, unlike Africa, you can get out of your vehicle and walk! These guys were so engrossed in hunting for grubs that we were able to walk right among them.

 

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Other critters we came across in our wanderings were both Red Brocket and Grey Brocket deer. Here's a Grey one.

 

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And a Red-footed Tortoise.

 

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Back at the lodge, there was was a dripping pipe where birds and other creatures like to come for a drink or bath. This Tegu Lizard seemed to live under the pump house.

 

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And this Agouti stopped by as well.

 

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We'd hoped to find Giant Anteater at Pouso Alegre as they had been seen lately. In fact our guide had seen one there just the week before. We spent both our early evenings at a sort of 'waterhole' on the property where they sometimes come out at dusk. But no luck on the Anteaters . (I believe @@cheetah80 was fortunate enough to spot one here, just a couple of weeks after us.) Oddly, on our previous 2006 trip we'd seen several of the smaller anteaters--the Tamandua--but this trip we were not lucky with those either. :angry:

 

However, our patience at the waterhole was rewarded with a totally unexpected sighting--a Collared Forest Falcon came flopping down out of the forest, right at the water's edge! He must have been chasing something, because it was quite an ungainly landing. The light was dim and we were totally taken by surprise so the photo isn't great, but this was a life bird and not at all expected out in the open--its usually a deep forest bird. We followed it into the woods and saw it go directly into a hollowed out tree. It seemed it was either nesting or roosting inside this tree, but it was getting dark and we knew the bird would not come out again that day. (Frustratingly, a photography group had the bird in this hole the following day, and one woman showed me fantastic photos of it peeking out.)

 

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Even our guide Andre was pretty thrilled with this sighting. With that happy note, the disappointment of no anteater was forgotten as we returned to the lodge for dinner.

 

(I guess I am going more or less day by day, after all. Its the only way to remember it all!)

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Really enjoying the development of this report. We are headed to the Pantanal in July, so I am following every word! Thanks for sharing your experience.

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Super beautiful bird pictures - but no less would be expected from you. Really like the Red-Footed Tortoise. BTW, I´ve been to Curicaca. We didn´t stay there but visited specifically for the resident Greater Potoo who was a bit more acommodating back then than for you. The Tapir by the road is a magnificent sigthing, very lucky!

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@@janzin

It is always good to hear from the Pantanal. Your photos -in particular the birds - are absolutely stunning.

How fortunate to see a tapir by the side of the road - a good omen and an excellent way to clear your head.

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@@janzin

 

I just love looking at your photos. Particularly like the Tegu lizard and the red footed tortoise and the shot of the turquoise fronted parrot

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Thanks everyone for your comments! I know not everyone gets excited over birds, but the Pantanal is really a birder's paradise. There isn't a huge list of species, but the ones that are there are generally easy to see and relatively easy to photograph. The parrots and macaws alone are astounding...

 

The next morning we heard from the birding group that they had found a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl in a tree right up the road. Well, who can resist any kind of owl, so right after breakfast we walked over and sure enough it was easy to spot.

 

 

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This Yellow Ipe tree was near where he was hanging out. Ipe trees can come in yellow or pink and are quite spectacular in bloom, really brightening up the landscape.

 

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After spending a while with the cooperative owl, we decided to walk up the road a bit further to a small marshy spot.

 

 

This little bit of wetlands held a few nice birds, like this Black-collared Hawk who had just caught a fish (this photo is just after he finished eating.)

 

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These Grey-necked Wood Rails are very common. The first one we saw out in the open was on our first day, in the dim light, and I told Andre, stop the car, stop the car! He laughed and said we'll see a million later in better light...he was right :)

 

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Rufescent Tiger-Heron in a pink Ipe tree.

 

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Water Hyacinth in the marsh.

 

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We came across a Chestnut-eared Aracari displaying some really interesting behavior. It was down low in the marsh, at ground level (unusual in itself) happily munching away at these flowers, which appear to be similar to Morning Glory. It was neat to watch him toss the flowers into swallowing position. I couldn't get an unobstructed shot (in part because that darn birding group was also there, and hogging the good positions), but I thought this was interesting enough to include.

 

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Livetowander

What great photos you have. Well done!

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On our last morning at Pouso Alegre, we woke to cloudy skies and the threat of rain. Oh no! Andre assured us it wasn't a cold front (which could last for a couple of days and is really bad for jaguar spotting) but just a brief passing shower. The plan for this morning was to venture back up the road for a few km, to another lodge, Rio Claro. There were two parrots we really wanted to get--life birds--and Andre had told us that there was a good likelihood we'd find them at Rio Claro, as at least one of them, the Nanday Parakeet, comes to the feeders there.

 

As we drove towards Rio Claro, the rain started to come down. Just about at that moment Andre jammed on the brakes. A flock of large parrots had just landed in the trees right alongside the road--Golden-collared Macaws, our other target species! At least five or six of them! The light was terrible and it was drizzling but that didn't stop us from getting off some photos.

 

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Off to a good start, even with the rain.

 

At Rio Claro we parked ourselves in front of the feeders for quite awhile, but no parakeets. I took some time to check out their gift shop (tip for souvenirs--this shop was the best one along the drive, and yielded some nice t-shirts and gifts.) Still no parakeets, so we started to walk around the grounds a bit. The rain had stopped but it was still cloudy. Shortly, some folks on horseback started gesturing for us to come in their direction. They had seen us waiting at the feeders earlier, and knew we were looking for the Nandays. Out in the middle of the field, a flock of our target bird was fairly high in a Ype tree. Nanday Parakeets! Also known as Black-hooded Parakeets, these are really handsome birds and popular in the pet trade. Unfortunately, the light didn't do us any favors, but we were really happy to get another lifer for this area.

 

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After lunch, we started our drive down to Porto Jofre--and the jaguars. But before we get there, here is an assortment of other birds from various days, taken mostly along the Transpantaneira.

 

The Amazon Kingfisher is extremely common.

 

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The Capped Heron is perhaps the most beautiful of the herons in the Americas.

 

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and a less beautiful bird, the Guira Cuckoo, which is often found on fenceposts along the road.

 

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And we mustn't leave out the Jabiru Stork, which is considered the emblem of the Pantanal. Here, in the nest with chicks. The nests are built very high in bare trees, and while some fazendas have built towers to climb for an easier view, we didn't go up any of them.

 

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Jabiru in flight.

 

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Little Blue Heron

 

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Roseate Spoonbill

 

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@@janzin

 

Nothing but exceptional photos ... yet, as Michael has already pointed out, such are expected from you ;) .

 

How does it came to a 550mm FL?

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What more can I say, your photos are, indeed, excellent! It reminds me some great moments that I lived in that beautiful part of the world. Thanks a lot!

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@@xelas, I was shooting with a 200-400 lens with a 1.4 teleconverter. Technically should be 560mm but EXIF always reports 550, for some reason.

 

And thanks for your compliments!

Edited by janzin
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"The Capped Heron is perhaps the most beautiful of the herons in the Americas." My favorite in that part of the world.

 

Despite that birding group taking up the good viewing spots, you did very well. Truly exceptional photos, one after the next. It's always fun when your guide is enthused about a sighting, such as the Collared Forest Falcon.

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@@janzin

 

One more tech question: D810 having a 36 MP sensor, and a DX option, was it necessary to use the TC ?

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@@janzin

 

One more tech question: D810 having a 36 MP sensor, and a DX option, was it necessary to use the TC ?

 

Absolutely, for birds! Never enough reach for birds. Even with the DX option (which gives about 15 MP) and the tc, I often still need to crop further. Which is why I'm excited about the new D500 coming out soon :)

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Porto Jofre is the end of the line: the last outpost at the end of the Transpantaneira. There is actually no town; there is only the hotel complex of the Pantanal Norte Hotel. This was originally a fishing lodge and now accommodates both fishermen and jaguar explorers. There are a few other options for accommodation; camping (no thanks) and in the past few years, several anchored houseboat/hotels. There is much discussion as to which are the better choice, but there was no question in our mind that we wanted to stay at the lodge. The only real advantage of the boats (so they claim) is that they are about 20 minutes closer to the main jaguar area: The Meeting of the Waters State Park. But this is really a moot point because jaguar can be seen anywhere along the river, and in fact, we saw our first jaguar just meters from the hotel--the boat people would not have even come in that direction. Also, a very good secondary area for jaguar is downstream from the hotel--putting the "Flotels", as they are called, at a distance disadvantage.

 

The other reason we opted for land was to have space to move around and the opportunity to photograph some birds during lunch. In fact, I got many great bird photos on the grounds of the hotel. On the Flotels, you are stuck there. Both Pantanal Jaguar Safaris (as well as our previous guide, Paulo Boute) very much recommend against staying at the Flotels.

 

Heading towards the boat dock.

 

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One great advantage of Pantanal Jaguar Safaris is that they own their own boat, and in fact, our guide, Andre, was a boatman for hire before he formed his own company. So he knows the ins and outs of the area like the back of his hand, and of course, is an excellent boatman. Also, by only having the single boatperson (as opposed to a guide plus a boat driver) you do save a bit on expenses. The boat is extremely comfortable, even for many hours of outing. It has cushioned seats and a canopy that can be put up for sun (much needed at times, but I tended to prefer it down to accommodate photography.) There was always a cooler with water and the hotel had a basket of snacks you could take along, including the Brazilian cheese breads and empanadas...made a great mid-morning snack.

 

One more quick note about the Pantanal Hotel Norte; the rooms are very comfortable with excellent a/c (needed!) and the food was great--very varied, lots of great salads and always several choices for dinner, always a pasta dish, a fish dish, and a meat dish--the fish of course is fresh from the river (always the same kind) but delicious. Decent wifi in the dining room only.

 

Just like on African safari, the boats go out for 5 or so hours in the morning, return for lunch, and then go out again in the afternoon. Given we had our own boat, of course we could be flexible, but the jaguars really don't move much during the hot (very hot) mid-day hours. It is required to be back by dark.

 

Okay, I know you are eager to get to the jaguars already. And we're off!

 

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So, on our first morning outing, we traveled up to the Meeting of the Waters area. Saw lots of birds, capybara, etc., but no jaguar. Then just as we were heading back to the hotel for lunch, the call came in (the boats have radio contact, just like on African safari.) Jaguar spotted right by the hotel! Needless to say, we sped at top speed (fun in a boat) but when we arrived, this was the view. Can you spot the jaguar? Amazingly, the guides spot them!

 

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This is a 100% crop from that photo:

 

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Still, with binoculars--it was our life JAGUAR!! A female. Sleeping. Facing away. BUT A JAGUAR!!

 

This was the best I could do at the time, when she finally lifted her head.

 

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Note that this photo was taken at 11:39 a.m. Andre thought we should go back to the hotel, have lunch, and return--knowing their behavior, he felt she would move later in the afternoon. And we were literally five minutes from the hotel pier, you could see it down the river (so much for the Flotels!) We were hesitant to leave (our first jaguar!!) but deferred to his expertise. We did ask to return a bit earlier than we normally would, post-lunch, to be on the safe side.

 

We returned before 3 p.m. and she was still there. We patiently waited, and then she started to come down. Now we were much happier, photographically--and in every way!

 

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She headed down the bluff to the water!

 

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And she came right to the edge and laid down in the sand.

 

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What a great first day of jaguar hunting!

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Thrilling to see the jaguar. She is a beauty, and your photos of her are great!

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@@janzin Your photos of the birds are outstanding. And then the jaguar! What a beauty she is.

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Eye wetting and mouth salivating beautiful photos @@janzin !

 

More tech talk: was there place for a tripod in the boat? Or did you use a monopod?

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Eye wetting and mouth salivating beautiful photos @@janzin !

 

More tech talk: was there place for a tripod in the boat? Or did you use a monopod?

@@xelas, funny you should mention that--I've got that covered in my next post. Stay tuned...

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