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In search of the Grey Ghost


kittykat23uk

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michael-ibk

Really love this report, beautiful birds around Delhi and love the Ibisbill. The Snow Leopard is crawling around somewherein my brain, demanding to be let out, but I still refuse to give in for all the reasons you stated. Very clever move to add some Tigers at the end, I think somehow I don´t dare to "jump" because it would be too devastating not to see the main target.

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In search of the Grey Ghost- Ladakh and Tadoba, India.   Introduction   First of all, I should say this was not a trip I was looking forward to. In fact I was, to put it another way, bricking it!

We were scanning from the watch point above camp for the remainder of the afternoon and all of a sudden our guide begins to get very animated! He's spotted a Snow Leopard!!   It was getting on in th

18 Feb 2016   I could say we were awoken with sweet, black bed tea at 0730, however considering I had barely slept, that wouldn't be too accurate! We pulled ourselves together and convened in the me

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kittykat23uk

More great photographs to augment the text. So nice to see people and places as well as wildlife.

Looking forward to more.

 

I frequently overlook the potential of people in my photography. I usually have the wrong lens on my camera! Thankfully, Mike had more interest in capturing everything. I also bought myself a funky hat, which came in very handy once we got to Hemis. :)

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kittykat23uk

@@kittykat23uk I love the signs, always enjoy signs in other countries that are written in English: "Cute Arts and Crafts" and "New Fancy Cloth House" :)

 

Then you probably enjoyed the Chinglish signs from my Sichuan trip report eh? Especially the one about wildebeests.. :D

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kittykat23uk

Really love this report, beautiful birds around Delhi and love the Ibisbill. The Snow Leopard is crawling around somewherein my brain, demanding to be let out, but I still refuse to give in for all the reasons you stated. Very clever move to add some Tigers at the end, I think somehow I don´t dare to "jump" because it would be too devastating not to see the main target.

 

Well I and some of the others was in pretty low spirits ahead of this trip after we heard that one of Andy's friends dipped on their trip, it was a very sobering thought and exactly why I insisted on a week in Tadoba afterwards as insurance. :)

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kittykat23uk

Been waiting for this! and an intriguing start, ticking off the negatives, but you seem to have survived it all and emerged with great pics intact.

 

I love that brown-headed barbet! what a cute bird. and you saw nilgai too!

 

Yes just about had all limbs intact! Although I was very badly bruised- I'll come onto that later....

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kittykat23uk

@@kittykat23uk, talk about hit the ground running, airport to hotel and straight out to a Bird Sanctuary 2 hours out of Delhi, phew. I think you have more stamina than you give yourself credit for. Hoopoe and Spotted Owlet so cute, enjoying seeing Indias birds again.

 

More spotted owlets to come later in the report. I "trained" for this trek by walking up and down my office stairs for about 45 mins each lunchtime. It helped slightly I think but I was still not as fit as I should have been really. But I just about managed to keep up, although had the odd moment here and there..

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Galana

@@michael-ibk

"The Snow Leopard is crawling around somewherein my brain, demanding to be let out, but I still refuse to give in for all the reasons you stated."

 

Let it out! You can always buy one for later! :P

post-14856-0-71725700-1460919651_thumb.jpg

post-14856-0-71725700-1460919651_thumb.jpg

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Atravelynn

You realize the suspense is killing us!

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Zim Girl

Loving this so far.

 

Wonderful scenery and great people and street pictures.

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pomkiwi

@@kittykat23uk I am enjoying your account so far and the photography. I am also awaiting the outcome of your search for the snow leopard. I was once the wrong side of a ridge to see one in Kyrgyzstan - according to the local horseman who had watched it 20 min earlier!

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kittykat23uk

@@kittykat23uk I am enjoying your account so far and the photography. I am also awaiting the outcome of your search for the snow leopard. I was once the wrong side of a ridge to see one in Kyrgyzstan - according to the local horseman who had watched it 20 min earlier!

 

Gutting! :(

 

 

We were relieved to find that Andy and Olly had made it out to Leh after Andy's visa hiccup at Heathrow and they joined us for lunch before we headed out to Leh village in the afternoon. Upon our return we all rested up for a few hours and I made use of the wifi (when it dained to work) and watched a bit of TV. The only english language channels I could find were Fox, which seemed to show only four programmes, Lost, House, a programme called “Louie” which was allegedly a comedy, “Scare Tactics”, which was the oddest hidden camera show I have ever seen (given the title I'll let you all conclude the premise of this ill-conceived show) and Walking Dead. I would only have watched House by choice out of the scant choice available.

At dinner we got talking to another group, who had just got back to Leh. They had been lucky enough to see three snow leopards on their trek at Rumbak, which raised our spirits somewhat.

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kittykat23uk

17 Feb 2016

 

Some of the group met early to revisit the solitary snipe site. I decided not to join them and rest up ready for the trek to Husing Camp. They were lucky enough to see both otter and mountain weasel (the latter would have been a lifer for me so I was a bit sad not to have seen it) but not a solitary snipe was to be seen.

 

We had breakfast and departed at 8 am for the drop off point. We drove to Zingchen and Hemis National Park.

 

24987697074_554033bc57_b.jpg

20160217_104608 Indus by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

25592067076_2e8c4d4891_b.jpg

20160217_105644 Indus by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

25250648489_f70215c67b_b.jpg

20160217_133550 View from my tent by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

From there everything except our day sacks were loaded onto donkeys to be transported to the camp and we then walked approx. 1½ hrs to the campsite at Husing located at approximately 3700 m. The actual walk is not far and the track isn’t steep, but it was pretty tiring due to the altitude! Husing is situated in a corridor linking three valleys. Depending on activity, some groups only stay at this camp and don't go any further into the national park. But at the time we went the are had not been productive as the weather had been too mild and there was no snow. This meant that the Bharal, the main prey of the leopard, were grazing at higher altitudes.

 

26507584215_5f076fb07c_b.jpg

P1010278 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

26441494481_c24038a429_b.jpg

P1010283 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

After lunch at the camp we had a really difficult steep hike up the side of a mountain ridge to look for snow leopards. W were perched rather precariously on our little ridge as we sacanned in all directions looking for any sign of the grey ghost.

 

26441495301_46e92d59eb_b.jpg

P1010285 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

26415272612_d65c588a6f_b.jpg

P1010286 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

 

Some of us hired porters to carry our gear and I was very grateful for the support, because I needed my hands free in order to manage to get up and back down the steep slope. Unsurprisingly we did not see any snow leopards from here. We did see our first Golden Eagle, Lammergeier, Himalayan Snowcock, Brown Accentor, Alpine Chough, Chough as well as White-winged Redstart and Red-fronted Serin. We also spotted a distant group of Bharal (Blue Sheep).

 

Tea was brought up for us and as the sun went behind the mountains it started to rapidly get rather chilly. by dusk we started to head back down the ridge, I have generally had a good head for heights, but this steep climb was enough to give me vertigo! I was very unsteady trying to get down again..

 

We had a nice meal and then retired to our tents with hot water bottles. Most of us had hired military grade sleeping bags, which were pretty essential considering the temperature.

 

25407696393_5d232fa861_b.jpg

P1010279 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

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Towlersonsafari

I love the practical details of your report @@kittykat23uk

Edited by Towlersonsafari
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Galana

A further great instalment. Looking forward to more. Some splendid scenery shots.

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kittykat23uk

18 Feb 2016

 

I could say we were awoken with sweet, black bed tea at 0730, however considering I had barely slept, that wouldn't be too accurate! We pulled ourselves together and convened in the mess tent for breakfast. This would be a regular ritual throughout our stay. Most breakfasts consisted of porridge or cornflakes and hot milk, toast and omlettes. Occasionally we would be treated to pancakes!

 

Camp was packed up soon after and we set out on a much more strenuous hike up the valley through a pretty spectacular gorge to Rumbak camp. Just outside camp we had to cross a frozen river to reach our campsite. Note to self- should have brought crampons!

 

25943229051_14fdbd6f2e_b.jpg

670C8776 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

We had to wait for camp to be set up so we climbed up to our viewpoint and started scanning. This was far easier to get up to than the Husing watchpoint. Whilst scanning we counted c20 Bharal, c20 Chukar, 3 Himalayan Snowcock and occasional Lammergeir and Himalayan Griffon vulture.

 

25322584180_88cd88492d_b.jpg

20160218_091126 Donkey train by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

25322587490_6503f592cd_b.jpg

20160218_091131 Donkey train by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

25525530801_67b265091d_b.jpg

20160218_121125 Hemis National Park by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

25322591500_d38a14e34d_b.jpg

20160218_121134 waiting for camp to be set up- Rumbak by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

25525534741_e53cda8b46_b.jpg

20160218_121138 Hemis National Park- looking for snow leopards by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

24991498473_0c8dca264c_b.jpg

20160218_121241 Hemis National Park by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

24991502713_5e3ea45b82_b.jpg

20160218_122612 Rumbak- Hemis National Park by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

Lunch was served at our watchpoint and was excellent, as was all the food we had on the trek. I should say that our crew were first class, K.C. and Gurmet were our guides. They are the same team that worked with the BBC on their upcoming Planet Earth 2. So we know we were in safe hands.

 

Towards the end of the day we were scanning hard as this is the time that sightings can happen. We met some people from the BBC who had been trying to film a pair of wolves further up the valley as they returned to camp. It was starting to get very cold as we lost the sun behind the mountain. K.C. took his scope and got a bit of height by scaling a nearby hill. At around 4pm, all of a sudden he starts shouting and pointing at a far away mountain top. He'd spotted a snow leopard!

 

He was shouting instructions to the guys on the ground and Stanzin rapidly put his scope on the right area and then started getting others set up. When it was my turn to look through the scope I initially couldn't see anything. it was literally the furthest visible peak that we could see from camp. As I adjusted to the view and with direction from Stanzin I finally made out the tiny head moving from side to side just above the brow of the ridge. Just its head and shoulders were visible as it loafed on a rounded, partially snow-covered peak. It would look our way with a perfectly symmetrical, 'feline' profile and look to the right, then showing the classic leopard head shape. It yawned a few times, stood up and turned round once and then, after 45 mins, in the gloaming of dusk it stood, stretched and ambled across the ridge showing a lithe profile and enormous tail. It walked in front of a large dark rock at one point briefly revealing the pale, mottled coat and then it was gone.

 

To give you an idea, this is the ridge as viewed from the watchpoint (this shot was taken later in the trip after snow):

 

26254627470_51764ffef4_b.jpg

670C9032 annotated copy by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

And this is the view of the Grey Ghost as viewed through Mike's telescope (at 60x magnification I think).

 

25917101082_40bf6e16da_b.jpg

P1010301 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

Yeah not exactly a show stopper! I really hoped we would have a better sighting later in the trip..

 

 

We were all in high spirits afterwards and celebrated with some of Peter's whisky and a drop of Old Monk rum that the Indian guys had brought with them.

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Atravelynn

You saw! At least you saw it. I can see it. Pass the rum!

Edited by Atravelynn
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Galana

Yes. A sighting is a sighting. You would need the rum with all that cold stuff around.

Love the Pony express. So atmospheric. Just what one imagines.

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cheetah80

I wouldn't pass up any sighting of the snow leopard! How many of us can say we have seen one in the wild?!?! Epic adventure!

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CaroleE

@@kittykat23uk Great Himalaya shots from the plane and also those in and around Leh. Pretty impressed with arriving and going stright out birding...well worth it with that great list of species! OK, more to read......the snow leopards are calling.

 

P.S. I'm with most people here, not too sure I could do this trip - well done you!

 

OK I waited with baited breath, read the rest and found out you did indeed see a snow leopard. Fabulous stuff!

Edited by CaroleE
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CaroleE

Wow - great birding and photos @@kittykat23uk! Looks like you augmented your Ibisbill photo collection nicely.

 

Question for you: is the drinking bird in post #12 a Duarian Redstart (Phoenicurus auroreus)? Or is it perhaps Hodgson's?

 

A trip to Chitwan National Park in Nepal is fairly high on my to-visit list; you have me thinking about adding a leg in the Himalayas as well. I will be keenly following this T.R.

 

If I may add something here. I personally found Bardia National Park much much better than Chitwan. Much more to see. Some of the wild- and birdlife in Chitwan seemed to have been pushed further out, no longer in the park itself. Bardia much less busy, not sure how it is since they closed all the camps and lodges inside Chitwan NP. it is further afield than Chitwan so hopefully that will help preserve it from mass numbers of visitors. And the Himalya are always worth a visit (or two, or three :mellow: )

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twaffle

How wonderful, you saw a snow leopard! What an adventure.

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pault

Brrrrrrrrr....amazing scenery though, and early success with the Grey Ghost. Hope you do get a better view later, but it was a nice, long sighting.

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PHALANX

In search of the Grey Ghost- Ladakh and Tadoba, India.

 

Introduction

 

First of all, I should say this was not a trip I was looking forward to. In fact I was, to put it another way, bricking it! It didn't help that we'd heard that sightings had been down and a recently returned group had failed to see our main target species.

 

But it was a trip that I felt I had to do, a trek to look for the Grey Ghost.... the Snow Leopard... that most elusive of cats.

 

I don't like the cold, struggle with altitude, don't do hills and am not that much a fan of camping to be honest and this trek had all of those elements in spades! But I had to try and tick a snow leopard, so off I went...

 

My friend Jo Thomas who runs http://www.wildabouttravel.co.uk/ regularly runs tailor made treks to Ladakh and organised for me to join a group of seven birders on a private tour. As insurance against dipping the leopard, I and one other participant added a week in Tadoba for some much needed R,R and T (rest, recuperation and Tigers).

 

13th Feb 2016

 

I arrived in Heathrow and heard from Jo that one of the other participants had been refused boarding on his flight and his mate had decided to stay behind with him for moral support. Jo was busily trying to sort out his issue, which was basically that he's got his e-visa but had applied with an out of date passport and had only brought his replacement passport to the airport with him. Doh!

 

I and one other participant, Peter flew Air India from Heathrow to Delhi on flight AI 112, departing at around 2100 on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. I must say it had the clearest in-flight entertainment system I have ever experienced, the sound quality of the provided headphones and visibility of the viewing screens was excellent.

 

I found the air stewards to be particularly generous with the alcoholic beverages, which was nice and the food was okay, but nothing special! The selection of movies was up to date with some recent cinema releases available in both directions (different selection on the way back, including Star Wars: The Force Awakens).

 

14th February 2016

 

We arrived into Delhi on time, around 11.20. After collecting our bags we picked up a bottle of JD from duty free for one of Jo's local guys, Praveen and changed money before being met in arrivals by Praveen and our driver. We were taken to Hotel Lohmod to drop our bags and freshen up before we then headed out to Sultanpur Jeel, a local bird sanctuary about 2 hours drive from Delhi. As we were arriving there, the rest of the guys in our group were heading back to the hotel so we missed them.

 

We met our guide and first stopped at the on-site restaurant to have a light lunch of dhal and butter nan. Then we headed out into the park for an afternoon of birding. A good range of birds was seen:

 

Greylag goose

bar-headed goose

Teal

Shoveler

Spot-billed duck

Gadwall

Pintail

Ferruginous duck

Tufted duck

Grey francolin

Indian peafowl

Little grebe

Indian darter

Great cormorant

Indian cormorant

Little cormorant

Little egret

Intermediate egret

Indian pond heron

Grey heron

Purple heron

Black-necked stork

Painted Stork

Glossy Ibis

Eurasian Spoonbill

Lesser flamingo

Black Kite

Indian spotted eagle

Imperial eagle

Moorhen

Coot

Purple swamphen

Snipe

redshank

Wood sandpiper

Black-winged stilt

Red-wattled lapwing

White-tailed plover

Rock dove

Collared dove

Ring-necked parakeet

Spotted owlet

Hoopoe

White-throated kingfisher

Coppersmith barbet

Black-rumped flameback

House crow

Large-billed crow

Rufous treepie

Black drongo

Long-tailed shrike

Bluethroat

Black redstart

Oriental magpie robin

Indian robin

Spotted flycatcher

Red-breasted flycatcher

Bank mynah

Common mynah

Plain prinia

Chiffchaff

Hume's leaf warbler

Green-crowned warbler (referred to as Whistler's by the guide we had)

Whitethroat

Large grey babbler

 

Plus Nilgai and Palm squirrels.

 

 

25159530054_7f604d2cfb_b.jpg

P2140008 Hoopoe by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

25763932516_58abbf9dd8_b.jpg

P2140017 red-breasted flycatcher by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

25489329590_c3afb0e786_b.jpg

P2140037 Spotted owlet by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

25163406883_efb19b7506_b.jpg

P2140051 coppersmith barbet by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

25763943526_19a0abfa63_b.jpg

P2140055 coppersmith barbet by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

25694944791_0a2113fa52_b.jpg

P2140073 nilgai by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

25489342950_80246ec6c3_b.jpg

P2140075 nilgai by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

25669044442_742dd7d754_b.jpg

P2140077 baby nilgai by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

25159556374_af43d9448b_b.jpg

P2140080 Green-crowned warbler by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

25669052512_4d992e9dca_b.jpg

P2140091 bluethroat by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

We met the rest of the group back at the hotel, had dinner and got a reasonable early night as we had an early flight the following morning to Leh.

 

 

25694965711_592501db63_b.jpg

P2140112 long-tailed shrike by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

25163445723_94a33f0592_b.jpg

P2140122 brown-headed barbet by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

25763984146_c1b5cb5439_b.jpg

P2140129 brown-headed barbet by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

25763988466_d06298412b_b.jpg

P2140137 brown-headed barbet

Great bird list. I'll get there one day.

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PHALANX

18 Feb 2016

 

I could say we were awoken with sweet, black bed tea at 0730, however considering I had barely slept, that wouldn't be too accurate! We pulled ourselves together and convened in the mess tent for breakfast. This would be a regular ritual throughout our stay. Most breakfasts consisted of porridge or cornflakes and hot milk, toast and omlettes. Occasionally we would be treated to pancakes!

 

Camp was packed up soon after and we set out on a much more strenuous hike up the valley through a pretty spectacular gorge to Rumbak camp. Just outside camp we had to cross a frozen river to reach our campsite. Note to self- should have brought crampons!

 

25943229051_14fdbd6f2e_b.jpg

670C8776 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

We had to wait for camp to be set up so we climbed up to our viewpoint and started scanning. This was far easier to get up to than the Husing watchpoint. Whilst scanning we counted c20 Bharal, c20 Chukar, 3 Himalayan Snowcock and occasional Lammergeir and Himalayan Griffon vulture.

 

25322584180_88cd88492d_b.jpg

20160218_091126 Donkey train by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

25322587490_6503f592cd_b.jpg

20160218_091131 Donkey train by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

25525530801_67b265091d_b.jpg

20160218_121125 Hemis National Park by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

25322591500_d38a14e34d_b.jpg

20160218_121134 waiting for camp to be set up- Rumbak by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

25525534741_e53cda8b46_b.jpg

20160218_121138 Hemis National Park- looking for snow leopards by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

24991498473_0c8dca264c_b.jpg

20160218_121241 Hemis National Park by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

24991502713_5e3ea45b82_b.jpg

20160218_122612 Rumbak- Hemis National Park by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

Lunch was served at our watchpoint and was excellent, as was all the food we had on the trek. I should say that our crew were first class, K.C. and Gurmet were our guides. They are the same team that worked with the BBC on their upcoming Planet Earth 2. So we know we were in safe hands.

 

Towards the end of the day we were scanning hard as this is the time that sightings can happen. We met some people from the BBC who had been trying to film a pair of wolves further up the valley as they returned to camp. It was starting to get very cold as we lost the sun behind the mountain. K.C. took his scope and got a bit of height by scaling a nearby hill. At around 4pm, all of a sudden he starts shouting and pointing at a far away mountain top. He'd spotted a snow leopard!

 

He was shouting instructions to the guys on the ground and Stanzin rapidly put his scope on the right area and then started getting others set up. When it was my turn to look through the scope I initially couldn't see anything. it was literally the furthest visible peak that we could see from camp. As I adjusted to the view and with direction from Stanzin I finally made out the tiny head moving from side to side just above the brow of the ridge. Just its head and shoulders were visible as it loafed on a rounded, partially snow-covered peak. It would look our way with a perfectly symmetrical, 'feline' profile and look to the right, then showing the classic leopard head shape. It yawned a few times, stood up and turned round once and then, after 45 mins, in the gloaming of dusk it stood, stretched and ambled across the ridge showing a lithe profile and enormous tail. It walked in front of a large dark rock at one point briefly revealing the pale, mottled coat and then it was gone.

 

To give you an idea, this is the ridge as viewed from the watchpoint (this shot was taken later in the trip after snow):

 

26254627470_51764ffef4_b.jpg

670C9032 annotated copy by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

And this is the view of the Grey Ghost as viewed through Mike's telescope (at 60x magnification I think).

 

25917101082_40bf6e16da_b.jpg

P1010301 by Jo Dale, on Flickr

 

Yeah not exactly a show stopper! I really hoped we would have a better sighting later in the trip..

 

 

We were all in high spirits afterwards and celebrated with some of Peter's whisky and a drop of Old Monk rum that the Indian guys had brought with them.

Half a loaf & all that. At least you saw it, well done!

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