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Oh, I am so jealous of your Shoebill sighting, what a co-operative bird to allow such long and close views. The gonolek is an amazing bird, it must be hard to be a skulker with that bright plumage.


Great trip report, thanks for sharing.

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The Royal Mile! This is part of the 793 km² Budongo Forest Reserve, technically a part of Murchison Falls NP. Named for its popularity as a traditional leisure stop-over for Uganda´s royalty, this is a famous birding spot with many West and Central African species. It it an easy and comfortable way to get right into the middle of this cool lowland forest here. It was made by Omukama Kabalega as a military training ground for his Abarusura army.


It took us a bit less than an hour to get here from Masindi. A slightly depressing drive, the surrounding area is intensively used for agriculture. Huge sugar cane plantations everywhere as far as one can see with only a few small islands of tiny forest patches left.




Our local birding guide Raymond. Uzuri had booked local "site guides" for all our major birding excursions. Invaluable! An extremely nice and knowledgable fellow, definitely the go-to-guy if you need a good birding guide here. @inyathiwill recognize Raymond - he also used his services while there.




We first did some birding in the fields bordering the forest and quickly picked up a lot of species.




Black-and-White Casqued Hornbills - male and female




Compact Weaver - a new species for me!




And soon we had our first target - a White-Thighed Hornbill, basically a West and Central African species.




Red-Headed Lovebird




As always in Africa the road was quite busy, lots of people coming and going.




The entrance gate. Since it´s part of the NP you cannot just amble in, there´s a fee (USD 40,-- I think).






It´s a really cool forest, and the path is very, very easy to walk. Quite a rare thing in the middle of a rain forest.




Birding? Well, forest birding is always the same - it´s extremely difficult to even find birds since they mostly like to hang around in the canopy. And since the trees here are huge that means they are a long way off. And since everything is super-dense that makes it very easy for them to just disappear. I know that, have experienced that and always tell myself to have no illusions about jungle birding. Of course I never listen to my sane self and always think THIS will be the time I will SEE all the super-rare special birds in the forest and will get TERRIFIC photos!


Of course I always miserably fail - and did so again. :D


We did pick up quite a lot of stuff, but I won´t torment you with all the barely-recognizable blurry things in the "photos" I took. My friends over on the birding Big Year subforum will suffer though, no escape for them. It did not help that the weather was again pretty poor. Easier things than to take photos in a dark forest.




This is as good as it gets - an African Shrike-Flycatcher.




Red-Chested Cuckoo




African Pygmy Kingfisher - quite common here.








Another new one for me - Blue-Throated Roller




When birds refuse to cooperate fortunately there are always butterflies around.




This one took pity on me and patiently posed at eye-level for a while - a Rufous Flycatcher-Thrush


I had two main targets - Kingfishers! As a very superficial birder I like my birds flashy and pretty. :D I was super-delighted when we finally did find my first target - an African Dwarf Kingfisher.




Like I said very tricky to get pictures here but since it´s, well dwarfy, and shy, this was not the easiest subject. It´s the world's smallest kingfisher with a length of 10 centimetres (3.9 in) and a weight of 9–12 grams (0.32–0.42 oz).






I´m afraid we did somewhat neglect the monkeys. Baboons, Colobus, and Blue Monkeys were all present - and the Red-Taileds featured here.


When we reached the end of the Mile we still had not found my second "most-wanted" bird - the Chocolate-Backed Kingfisher.


TR_0106_0209_Budongo Forest - The Royal Mile.jpg


But what was that noise?



Yeah, that´s it! A very noisy bird. But it took us an eternity to find it. And when I say us I of course mean Raymond. :D And after he found it it took another eternity for us to see it - it was very high up in the canopy. I took about 4000 photos in the futile hope one would be recognizable. That´s the one:




Especially for you, @dlo!


So, both targets in the bag, cool! :D That only leaves me with two African Kingfishers - White-Bellied and White-Collared. Since I have no particular desire to visit the mangroves of Eritrea or Somalia the latter will probably not make it into my list ever.




Another White-Thighed Hornbill just because Hornbills are cool.


We were back at the gate at about 01:30 p.m. Really enjoyed the Royal Mile. Even if you´re not a birder it´s just a very cool, majestic forest to walk in, and there´s always a chance something exciting like Chimps or Elephants might pop up. Although I´ll say I always hoped not to run into a Forest Elephant.




We went back to Masindi to get our luggage (only a slight detour) and then proceeded to Murchison Falls. I do promise mammals now!

Edited by michael-ibk
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A great start, wonderful Shoebill and a beautiful selection of other birds.

You describe the experience of forest birding perfectly. Why do I never learn?

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@michael-ibkVery envious that you had excellent views of my nemesis bird the Papyrus Gonolek, I guess I will have to see if I can make it third time lucky someday. Fantastic that you went to the Royal Mile and had Raymond to show you the birds, you even got to see and photograph the Chocolate-backed from the front, I only saw the back of it :D and you stayed at the famous Masindi Hotel, I will read the rest of your report with great interest. 

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Great stuff Michael. So pleased you managed to get 'a couple' of Shoebill photos to share with us. :P

I'm sure I'd have taken at least as many.


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Catching up with your TR Michael, very entertaining so far with the Shoebill starring, of course.

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Deleted. I somehow posted the comment in the wrong thread. Apologies.

Edited by pomkiwi
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Great start Michael.  I will really enjoy this.  The Shoebill pictures are amazing!

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On 3/20/2022 at 3:56 PM, michael-ibk said:



As a very superficial birder I like my birds flashy and pretty. :D 


I thought that was my claim to fame!?


So thrilled you got your Shoebill — and some quality time with it, as well.  Nice job with the hornbills, too. 

The itinerary sounds a bit overwhelmingly whirlwind, but you know how slow I am, after all.  Despite all the stress involved with the travel logistics and uncertain regulations, wasn’t it wonderful to just be in Africa again?


I’m so glad you’ve started your report — looking forward to more. 

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On 3/20/2022 at 3:10 PM, michael-ibk said:

Thanks! Where did you try for Shoebill? Chocolate KF was definitely high up on the target list - we´ll see. :)

We were going to try for shoebills at Ziwa but out itinerary got changed at the last minute.

We also had Raymond as our guide and I'm pretty sure he would have been much happier with your reaction to the chocolate kingfisher than our nonchalant reaction😂


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Thanks everybody!


On 3/20/2022 at 11:24 PM, inyathi said:

you even got to see and photograph the Chocolate-backed from the front, I only saw the back of it


So together we saw a complete one. :D


On 3/21/2022 at 11:12 AM, Soukous said:

So pleased you managed to get 'a couple' of Shoebill photos to share with us


I actually think I showed remarkable constraint with Shoebill photos. :D


4 hours ago, Alexander33 said:

Despite all the stress involved with the travel logistics and uncertain regulations, wasn’t it wonderful to just be in Africa again?


It certainly was - it always is! :)


1 hour ago, dlo said:

We were going to try for shoebills at Ziwa but out itinerary got changed at the last minute.

We also had Raymond as our guide and I'm pretty sure he would have been much happier with your reaction to the chocolate kingfisher than our nonchalant reaction


Just went through your report again - that was a really good one, and I really enjoyed reading it again now that I´ve been to a lot of the same places. With that knowledge I really appreciate how busy your itinerary was, even more "whirlwindy" than ours probably! B)

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Lizard Buzzard on the way. Ah shܧ)$/, sorry, I promised mammals. Will the little one here do?




I rarely take pictures of Baboons but the little rascal here had a lot of character.




THe "Kichumbanyobo" Gate at Murchison´s Southern park border. It´s still a long way from here to all the animals - North of the Nile the park is full with game but I don´t think we saw a single mammal (except baboons) South of the river.






Another Hornbill just because Hornbills are ... you know!


About 20 km South of Paraa (that´s where the bridge across the Nile is) my birding craze brought us trouble. I was asking Emma to shut down the engine because I absolutetly needed a photo of a Yellow-Throated Tinkerbird.




All good and well, but when we then wanted to proceed and Emma turned the key - nothing happened! Emma tried and tried but the car was just dead. Emma then opened the bonnet and tried to see what the problem was. But could not fix it. (Not that I blame it, I could probably not even open the bonnet myself. :-)) Trouble was it was already 06:00 p.m., and chances were slim somebody from the South would still come this way. In fact no cars did. And to make matters worse we were in a bit of a depression, and there was no phone connection. It´s a good thing I´ve been to Gabon, that trip certainly boosted my "shrug things off"-capabilities quite a bit, and I mentally prepared for a night in the car. But Emma would not be that easily beaten! He decided to just run towards the next hill hoping to find some help eventually. "Good luck Emma, take care about the Elephants and Lions", was the mental support we gave him.


And then we waited. Looking probably a bit hangdog, not unlike this quite miserable Colobus who had apparently really ticked off his hairdresser.




After a while reinforcements came - hooray! Turned out there was a lodge not too far, and of course Emma knew some guys there and they rushed to help. One of them was quite good with tech-stuff apparently, and soon the engine was running again. He explained what had been the problem, but since I don´t speak motor-lingo at all I had and have no idea what he was talking about.  (We´d have a - quickly fixed - problem with the clutch later on but other than that did not have car trouble again.)


We raced off now, and since it was really late now had no time to stop - still about 40 km to go to our place.




Just a quick stop when crossing the Nile. It´s such an iconic river we both have never seen - just had to stop.




And this Side-Striped Jackal also warranted a photo.




Pakuba Lodge was our place for the next two nights. Good location in a game-rich area, close to the White Nile.








In any normal year I would probably hate this place. It´s quite a huge lodge, with about 50 beds or so. I shudder to think how it would be like with a 100(!) people there. But everything is different now - there were no more than 15 guests probably, and so it was quite alright. Food was very good, staff very friendly and helpful, and the rooms comfortable.

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23 hours ago, michael-ibk said:

Just went through your report again - that was a really good one, and I really enjoyed reading it again now that I´ve been to a lot of the same places. With that knowledge I really appreciate how busy your itinerary was, even more "whirlwindy" than ours probably! B)

Thank you much appreciated🙏. I chuckled out loud at @Alexander33whirlwind comment. It's really silly looking back at how much ground I covered and I have made a promise to myself to slow it down. Honestly I think you're itinerary here is almost perfect. 


Our first trip to Murchison we stayed in some dorm rooms in Budongo and the amazing scenery and constant noise from all the hornbills was magnificent. It wasn't deforested at all yet and to this day I still the remember the drive through the most beautiful road I've ever seen. I wish you could have seen as it was. The deforestation is certainly depressing.

Enjoying the birds and looking forward to primates.

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We had a really enjoyable morning game drive  the next day, and mostly kept quite close to the Nile. "Morning" is relative - basically we just kept going until we reached Paraa in time for our afternoon boat excursion.




The herbivore mix in Murchison is somewhat unusual - quite a few of familiar faces are missing here. No Zebras, Wildebeest, Impala or Gazelles - they don´t occur here. Ugandan Kob are the Impala replacement - they are very, very common.




Patas´s Monkey (which I´ve only ever seen in Zakouma before) were semi-regular sightings although we never had a really good photo opportunity. The day started out quite dull and grey again but fortunately it brightened up a bit eventually.






I´ll try to keep the birds down to the "crowdpleasers" - hope this Swallow-Tailed Bee-Eater counts.




Black-Headed Gonoleks are also pretty cool - Northern Africa´s answer to the familiar Crimson-Breasted Shrike of the South.






And Kingfishers never get old. :)




The haze was so strong that we just barely saw the opposite bank of the Nile.




Waterbuck - the Defassa subspecies here - were pretty numerous along the river.




Hartebeest - the embodiment of all the poor misfit animals described as "ungainly". Personally I´m quite fond of them. This is the "Jackson´s Hartebeest", not a proper subspecies as such but apparently regarded as a hybrid between Lelwel´s and Coke´s Hartebeest.








African Pygmy Kingfisher




Blue Malkoha - a kind of Cuckoo, not a bird you see everyday.




The day before when we had to race to the lodge after our car problem we had seen a lot of Elephants - today they all had gone into hiding apparently. IIRC we only saw two lone bulls on our game drive.






Wattled Lapwing posing nicely.




Woodchat Shrike, a palearctic migrant. Have to post it since it was actually Emma´s bird of the trip - it was a lifer for him.




Saddle-Billed Stork, just flying by during our coffee break. Emma had bought pineapples the day before which we devoured now. They were perfectly ripe and sweet now - so much better than the ones we can buy at home.




Murchison is also a stronghold to Rothschild´s Giraffe - a near threatened animal with a population of less than 2,000. When compared to the similar Masai giraffe, Rothschild's is paler, the orange-brown patches are less jagged and sharp in shape and sport"white stockings". Their taxonomy has been in flux (as have all Giraffe species more or less)- for a while they were even proposed to be a good species by some experts. Now they are regarded as a subspecies of the Northern Giraffe.




We did not see many of them - actually this group, and then two single animals close to the lodge.



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I am a bit late to the party but have to add my accolades.  Great report Michael!  I love all the shoebill shots.  Looking forward to more.



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I too am late to the party. However, Michael congratulations on your superb pictures and thanks for posting this wonderful trip report with the ups and downs.  Have to say the Shoebill portraits are amongst the best I have seen and that’s saying something! Enjoying your adventures. 

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Thanks a lot @Atdahland @AKR1!:)


Arriving at Paraa (and enjoying quite a nice packed lunch from Pakuba Lodge!) we were getting ready for our boat trip! This was when I realized I had not really discussed the specifics with my operator. And of course we were booked for the big one (on the left).




I asked Emma if it might be possible to upgrade to a smaller one. And Emma being Emma he quickly had that organised. For a ridicilously low surcharge of USD 6,--/pp he organised a spot on one of the Paraa Safari Lodge vessels. (PSL is quite a big one, on the opposite side of the river.) That was a really comfortable and nice boat, we were happy about that decision since it enabled us to get a bit closer to shore - and thereby to the birds. We shared with three ladies from Germany and their guide - who was  impressively fluent in German, even down to the bird names. Wasted on them since they did not know any bird names in German or English! :D






Let the birding bonanza begin!




Malachite Kingfisher




Grey Heron




Goliath Heron


Hippos were very, very common, I´m sure we saw hundreds of them along the shore.




Including some very cute ones!




This one has grown well beyond any "cute" phases.






This was really painful to see. Poor guy had a snare around his mouth. That must be so very painful, and of course this snare will go deeper and deeper. :(




Better to look at the healthy ones.






Red-Throated Bee-Eaters were delightfully common - and patient. I think the boat almost rammed this stick which did not bother this bird in the slightest. A really beautiful Bee-Eater species.




We also saw a few Northern Carmines but unfortunately could never get close to them.






All along the river the Fish Eagles were calling. The perfect African soundscape, I cannot think of any other bird call which more says "Africa" than this.




This one took his hygiene very seriously. :)








Some seriously huge Crocs were enjoying sunbathes on the banks. This one really looked like a stuffed animal.




African Darter




Yellow-Billed Kite, the most common bird of prey during the trip.




Striated Heron




Western Marsh Harrier




Angolan Swallow. Very similar to the way more familiar Barn Swallow but a more chestnut breast band.






I was delighted so see a really good-sized Skimmer bank, several hundred birds. No approaching there, the water was too shallow even for our small boat. And unfortuantely they did not come out skimming.




Such cool birds.




Occassionally a few Elephants came out to feed on the lush riverine vegetation.




Another Grey-Headed Kingfisher. Hard to resist taking photos when they are so close.




The falls. Not the most impressive falls I´ve ever seen to be honest but a beautiful sight still. We had planned to leave the boat about here and do the (approx. one hour) hike to the top of the falls. Unfortunately that was not possible we´d already been told before entering the boat - the water level was very high, and the mooring point was completely submerged.




A Darter breeding rock.




All in all, this was a really enjoyable afternoon! Took us about three hours there and back again.




Our "crew". Really nice guys, and very good at keeping the boat stable for photos. (They took turns steering.) It´s also possible to go the other way from Paraa (West) to the more swampy area btw. Shoebill is possible there, so that was one of our back-up plans.

Edited by michael-ibk
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The drive back was beautiful - pretty nice light. Which was scarce during our time in Uganda as you might have noticed by now. Emma said it´s often quite grey and dull towards the end of the dry season, according to him the "best" months are Dec, Jan, June and July.






Unfortunately the beauty of Murchison Falls NP is about to be seriously scarced. Right now they are building an enormously broad road right through the park which will be paved soon. Heavy vehicles will cross then. The reason is oil of course. Murchison Falls sits on top of some vast oil reserves and if the companies get their way a pipeline will be built all the way down to Tanzania. TotalEnergies and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) are the major foreign investors. The two projects are "expected to start producing oil in 2025 and reach a peak production of 230,000 barrels per day, which will rank the Lake Albert oil fields as one of Africa’s top 10 oil projects". It seems the project still has to face some obstacles, there seems to be heavy and determined resistance by locals and NGOs, and - probably more important - financing issues. Read here. Let´s just hope this oil field will not spell disaster for Murchison.






Time to showcase Oribi which behave like Impala here. I mostly know them as pretty shy and relatively scarce animals. Here they are abundant, and almost tame.




Next morning the weather was back to dull, grey and flat light.






We did not see too many Elephants in Murchison, and this was the only calf. Mum was very protective.




A good way to counter weather like this is doing close-ups. This Abyssinian Hornbill was a very cooperative subject.


We had a long day of driving ahead but still wanted to get a better look at the falls so Emma took a detour there first. With some good raptor sightings on the way:




African Cuckoo-Hawk is quite a rare bird - in fact I have ever seen it once before (last November in Kenya actually).




Grasshopper Buzzard - looking exceptionally cool in flight IMO.




Look at those splendid wings!




The falls are a very cool and powerful place to be. Actually enjoyed them much more from up here than from the boat.










Down there you can see the Darter rock - this is how far the boats go.





Emma and @AndMicbraving the elements. B)


A bird species has (quite absdurdly if you ask me) decided that these rocks are a perfect place for hanging out and breeding - they are sitting on the rock on the bottom right:






Rock Pratincoles! I had read they were here, and was delighted to find a pair eventually. They blend in really well.






Time to go now - 330 km to go until our next destination!

Edited by michael-ibk
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That looks like a wonderful boat trip, and beautiful bird photos 

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An amazing and thoroughly entertaining trip report @michael-ibk! With so many splendid photos in spite of the sub-optimal conditions. The Shoebill, Kingfishers, Bee-eaters and Hornbills of course, but also the Papyrus Gonolek. Did you manually focus the first one? I look forward to the rest of your report and also to see even more birds on the BY thread, even the blurry ones up in the canopy ;)


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Thanks @TonyQand @PeterHG!


2 hours ago, PeterHG said:

Did you manually focus the first one?


Which one, the Shoebill? No, I rarely do manual focous at all, only when the autofocuse just cannot get "through" something and the bird is patiently sitting around.


2 hours ago, PeterHG said:

I look forward to the rest of your report and also to see even more birds on the BY thread, even the blurry ones up in the canopy


Be very careful what you wish for! :D

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Like I said before it´s a long drive from Murchison to Kibale. We left the park at about 11:00 a.m. (yes, we had dawdled at the falls) and only got to our lodge at about 18:30 p.m. But of course there´s nobody to blame for that except - me! Many birds to see on the road, and Emma saintly-patiently stopped for each and every one of them. :D




Long-Crested Eagle. Ridiculously common in Uganda, we saw it all the time.




Dark-Chanting Goshawk


Seriously though, I don´t think our scattered photo stops accumulated to much more than an hour. And we had a nice lunch in Hoima which is about half-way. They used to get way more tourist guests because the road previously was in an absolutely horrible state. But most of it has been paved and repaired, so quite smooth driving actually. The hotel is not too happy about that - now the drive down South can be done much faster, and fewer people stop by.






This was a real highlight - an Abyssian Roller! Quite an unexpected bonus, Emma was surprised to see one this far South.




Hoima where we had lunch.




To save time we chose to do the locals buffet - and it was actually way better than it´s probably looking here. :D The ashy-grey dumpling is millet - quite weird texture but not bad. The yellow stuff is mashed Matoka.




Crowned Hornbill doing its best Sparrow-sitting-on-the-wire impersonation.


The drive was also nice because it gave us a chance to talk with Emma about life in Uganda. I found it quite interesting to hear about all the tribes - 56 of them! Since tribalism is a somewhat strange concept to us it was good to learn a bit. Such as the Batooro being the most polite tribe. Emma is Bakiga, and modest a man as he is, he told us this is (by far!) the strongest tribe. :D


Most tribes are peaceful - except one in Northern Uganda. Apparently those people are really into cattle raiding, and that´s what they do - a lot. Take the neighbouring community´s cattle, then be raided yourself in a short while. Unfortunately they are doing this with guns (which they get in Northern Kenya apparently), so that area really does not sound too inviting. Emma told us a good friend of his belongs to that tribe. He´s working as a safari guide, an immensely pleasant, funny and earnest chap apparently. And when he´s had enough of being nice to tourists he goes home for holiday and then raids cattle. I guess his clients do not know. :wacko:




Another delightful stop - we watched these Turacos feeding. Such incredible birds, they look more like cartoon creatures than real birds.


TR_0161_Uganda_1046_Great Blue Turaco (Riesenturako)-Bearbeitet.jpg




These Cinnamon-Chested Bee-Eaters were a sure sign we were getting closer to the forest.






White-Eyed Slaty Flycatcher




The outskirts of Kibale NP. The surrounding fields are often tea plantations. Which is quite clever - the animals don´t find food here so this helps keeping them in the forest. Not completely though - we were later told we should not be alarmed if we happened to hear gunshots. Elephants of course do come out and enjoy the farmer´s crops. The warning shots are often used to drive them back.





Edited by michael-ibk
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More good stuff Michael and now we're getting to the main course which obviously are the primates😁. Also good to see @inyathiinspiring you to give us some life lessons in Uganda😋. Those cattle raiders were a big reason why Kidepo is so little visited. It was either fly or drive in a convoy to get to the park. Fortunately it is much better now except for the excruciating amount of time it takes to get there.


Really enjoying the nostalgia Michael.

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13 hours ago, michael-ibk said:

Which one, the Shoebill?

No, I meant the first one of the Papyrus Gonolek. It is hidden behind the reeds, but still perfectly sharp. Well done anyway!

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Hi @michael-ibk, thanks for a wonderful report.

It must have been great to be in Africa again.

My wife showed me the below photo today that I thought you might find interesting.

Shoebill WW2.png

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