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The Day of the Helicopter: 15 Minutes of Google Satellite Fame

The helicopter flew low and slow above the channel. I glanced up at it quickly to see what insignia it carried, but didn’t bother with the binoculars and so didn’t get a good look. Helicopters aren’t rare over the lake, in fact the building next door had one parked on the roof, and besides, I was in a hurry to find great blue herons to photograph.

© Babsje (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Guess who in the blue kayak?

I nosed the kayak through the first tunnel, then curved sharp right into the slender finger-like cove where herons sometimes perched. Just as the kayak slid out from under the tree canopy, I heard it again. The helicopter was flying directly over the cove. Since the cove paralleled the turnpike for a small distance, I thought maybe it was a traffic copter, put it out of mind and paddled deeper seeking out herons.

No luck finding herons there, I paddled back out towards the big lake. Just as I exited the cove, the helicopter reappeared, right overhead again. Seeing the same helicopter in a short timespan over a small area seemed odd. Maybe it wasn’t traffic-related, I thought, maybe it was a video crew getting some B-roll footage for TV or a movie being filmed near Boston. Whatever it was, I hoped they wouldn’t capture me. I’m notoriously camera-shy.

By the fourth time I encountered the helicopter that morning, I decided to make contact, and gave them a big wave goodbye with my paddle and took the kayak elsewhere on the lake.

Fast forward to the next winter.

It was a stormy night, one of those howling New England winter storms that made me long for warm days on the water. That night, I was frittering away some time online before sleep, and in an idle moment wondered what the lake looked like in a satellite view.

I found the lake, at left in this next photo, and then zoomed in until I found some of my favorite nooks and crannies, and then zoomed in again. In the second frame are two light dots. I zoomed in again, and in the third frame, the dots are larger still.

And with one final click to zoom in as close in as the satelite/mapping software allows, the two dots become two vessels. One, a fishing boat. The other? A blue kayak. With me aboard.

And then it all came back to me in retrospect, the day of the helicopter. It wasn’t the traffic or news or B-roll, it was part of the Google mapping project. And my concern about being captured was NOT unfounded.

At least a viewer can’t zoom in any closer than in the top photo of this post. I can live with that degree of anonymity. I think.

© Babsje (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Zooming in on the lake.

This week, Cheri and WordPress have challenged us to show something grand, “…we want you to consider not just the size of something, but also that special element: the “wow factor” of a scene or subject…” “…shots that will make our jaws drop.”

I don’t know how you would feel about finding yourself while zooming in from a satellite view first of the continent, then the Eastern Seaboard, then Eastern Massachusetts, then all the way down to your boat on the water, but my jaw literally dropped, and I did say “Wow.”

That helicopter day happened a few years ago, and the same image is still out there in the satellite views, but something more recently has brought on more “wows”: I have been honored with four blogging awards, shown here.

A BIG THANK YOU TO

Donna for the Sisterhood of the World Blogger Award – Nov 25th

Robbie for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award – Dec 3rd

Donna for the Versatile Blogger Award – Dec 5th

Cee for the Most Influential Blogger Award – Dec 6th

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This is truly humbling, and I am virtually speechless by the generously, thoughtfulness, and kindness of Donna, Robbie, and Cee. I owe each and every one of you my sincere gratitude for the recognition you’ve shown my blog and a proper reply per the rules of each award. I am tardy in my formal replies and will be working on them this week. I have been recovering since Thanksgiving week from a severe allergic reaction to an insect bite on my foot (that spread) and the grogginess from round the clock Benadryl has had me running on half cylinders. I’m on the mend now, tomorrow will be my first day off Benadryl, so watch for more thank-yous in a few days!

In the meantime, your kind gestures mean a lot, many many thanks!

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Thanks also to Cheri Lucas Rowlands and WordPress for the Weekly Photo Challenge: Grand prompt.

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A selection of my heron and flower photos is now available at the Five Crows Gallery in Natick, MA. Drop in and see the work of the many wonderfully creative artists who show there when you’re in the area.

Five Crows is on FaceBook. To give the gallery a visit, please click here.

Remember: Walk softly and carry a long lens.™

The Tao of Feathers™

© 2013 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Awards, Kayaking

Heron & Hawk’s Most Excellent Hair Raising Adventure — Weekly Writing Challenge: The Best Medicine

The ducks clamored furiously but as far as I could tell, no ducks were harmed in the making of this story.

The raptor swooped low across the secluded cove while the yearling great blue heron was fishing far out in the middle, where he was exposed and vulnerable to danger.

I didn’t see the incoming bird at all – my eye was glued to the camera’s viewfinder – and the first sign that something was about to happen was the heron’s cap feathers erecting suddenly. His neck feathers erected simultaneously, making his neck grow to three times it’s usual size. One second he looked normal and literally the next, he had fluffed up the way an alarmed cat’s tail expands to five times normal size.

 © Babsje (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com) Great blue heron reacts with erect cap feathers when dive-bombed by a hawk.

Great blue heron reacts with erect cap feathers when buzzed by a hawk. The heron does look a bit comical here,  doesn’t he? 

Only after noticing his shock of feathers did I see the blurry form cross in front of us, swooping a couple feet above the surface.

The ducks in the cove clamored furiously, and the jays squawked, but as far as I could tell, no ducks or jays were harmed, and the danger passed.

After the blurry raptor whizzed past us, the yearling returned to his fishing and I to the camera.

Then just three minutes later, the same thing happened again – through the camera, I noticed another incredible expansion of the heron’s neck feathers. This time, I fired off the shutter as fast as possible. I captured three or four frames of the heron with his huge puffed up neck and raised crest feathers, and in one, there’s a brown and white blur zooming close by the heron, the hawk on her return down the cove.

Although his behavior was typical of being startled – expanding his feathers to make himself appear larger and more threatening to an adversary – he didn’t show any other outward signs of fear, and made no attempt to flee when the hawk buzzed by him. 

Hawks and herons are both territorial, yet those two birds both seem to share the cove, an odd yet peaceable coexistence for two predators. That’s just supposition on my part, and it makes me wonder even more about the behavior of wild things at the lake when there are no humans around.

(As an aside, for people who have been following my blog, this is the same great blue heron featured in Wherein He Gets the Girl, the same male building the nest in Our Love must be Some Kind of Blind Love)

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Thanks for the Weekly Writing Challenge nudge, Michelle W and WordPress!
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This took place August 21, 2010)

© 2013 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Our Love must be Some Kind of Blind Love – Daily Prompt: Earworm & Weekly Photo Challenge: Companionable

“Our love must be some kind of kind of blind love.
I can’t see anyone but you.

Are the stars out tonight?
I don’t know if it’s cloudy or bright.
I only have eyes for you, dear…”

A. Dubin, H. Warren
I Only Have Eyes for You

Great blue heron adults pair bonding during nest building.

Great blue heron adults pair bonding during nest building.

On one of his stick-gathering forays, the young male great blue heron retrieved a branch that was longer then his wingspan and carried it across the channel back to the island where his mate waited patiently.

It was a very macho thing to do – he was clearly out to impress her, and show what a good provider he could be. (Forgive me for anthropomorphizing.)

Once back at the nest, it took a very long time for him to maneuver the branch into a good position for her to grasp it, and the two herons both held the branch in their beaks at the same time, twisting and turning it around and then upside down. At one point, they both held it nearly vertical and their struggle with the branch brought to mind that iconic photo of the troops raising the flag at Iwo-Jima.

Positioning the huge stick upright and then it starts to fall...

Positioning the huge stick upright and then it starts to fall…

I could see all of that through the binocs, but it was too far to make out the finer details of their construction dance.

After downloading the photos at night, I could see more clearly their teamwork in trying to negotiate such a large branch into position and weave it into the nest.

Incredibly, at one point, while the female is holding the larger end of the branch horizontally in her beak, the male has managed to maneuver himself underneath the rest of the branch. And then he tucked into position so that the branch straddled his shoulder area, bearing all the weight with his upper back while his mate got a better purchase on it, just like a human construction worker will balance a beam on his shoulders or back. You can see this in the next sequence of frames here.

The new stick is so large the female props it on the male's back for an assist.

The new stick is so large the female props it on the male’s back for an assist.

Amazing!

It took them quite a while to position the branch just so in the nest, and there  were a few cliffhanger moments as the branch nearly escaped their beaks’ grasp and almost plummets to the island floor 70 feet below.

Recovering from almost dropping the ginormous stick while nest building.

Recovering from almost dropping the huge stick while nest building.

When the branch was secured into position, it was the female’s turn to fly off in search of the next  stick for the nest. Unlike her macho mate, five minutes later she returned to the nest with a dainty, foot-long twig. I think they were both in the mood for an easier time of it, consruction-wise.

The final sequence of frames here, taken during a break in nest building that day, shows the obvious connection between this mated pair of herons. Can you hear someone singing that old chestnut, “I only have eyes for you, dear?”

Like these herons towards each other, I am smitten.

The herons engage each other during a break in nest building.

The herons engage each other during a break in nest building.

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Thanks for the Weekly Photo Challenge nudge, and the Daily Prompt nudge, too, Michelle W and WordPress.  

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This took place May 19, 2012)

© 2013 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Symbiotic  – Weekly Photo Challenge: The World Through Your Eyes

The red tailed hawk perched less than 20 feet from the adult great blue heron and stared at the nest, thinking no doubt about tasty eggs for dinner.

When I observed the great blue herons building their nest back in May, the other tall, dead tree on the island was a roosting place for many cormorants, and about 10 feet below the herons’ nest-in-progress, on a different tree, the cormorants had a nest with nestlings about to fledge. This is in keeping with heron-cormorant lore: they are known to nest in the same colonies, with herons generally building nests at higher levels than cormorants, although cormorants do sometimes perch even higher up.

The first day I watched the nest building, the adult male heron would occasionally make territorial postures towards the cormorants below, and once, when an incoming cormorant dared to land on a branch too close, the heron literally barked and chased off the cormorant. It was a different frawhnk sounding, definitely a “bark” from the heron.

Great blue heron chasing off incoming cormorant.

Great blue heron chasing off incoming cormorant.


The second day, the herons were close to done with the building – not nearly so much back-and-forth across the channel to gather sticks and twigs – and the cormorants were doing their usual thing, hanging out in the tree, occasionally spreading their wings to cool off, and feeding the nestlings.

The following weekend, however, the herons’ nest was complete, an adult sitting on the eggs, and not a cormorant in sight. The cormorant nestlings had fledged, the nest was empty, and no cormorants were to be seen anywhere on the island, or in the waters near it. Swans and cygnets, yes, geese, yes, ducks, yes. Cormorants, no.

It was the same scene for the next four weeks. Herons taking turns sitting on their eggs, but not a trace of any cormorants.

Flash forward to June 29th, the day I first discovered that at least one heron egg had hatched.

An adult heron was not sitting on the eggs, but rather standing on the nest, and I could see a fuzzy chick, and heard a new sound coming from the nest: chih chih chih … chih chih chih … chih chih chih. Big smiles.

And one other interesting thing: the cormorants were back.

And the cormorants stayed there, standing sentinel over the heron nestlings from nearby branches, across from and above the nest.

Over the weeks while the cormorants were gone and the herons were sitting on the eggs, there were other birds seen perching on trees near the nest, including a blue jay and a red tailed hawk. The hawk perched less than 20 feet from the adult heron and stared, thinking no doubt about tasty eggs for dinner. The blue jay did his job and pestered the hawk, until the hawk soared off elsewhere.

But once the heron eggs hatched, it seemed that the cormorants took up the charge of protecting the heron chicks from predators.

I like how that works.
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Thanks to Cheri Lucas Rowlands at WordPress for the inspiration of this Weekly Photo Challenge.
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This took place May thru July, 2012)

© 2013 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Camouflaged Heron – Weekly Photo Challenges: The Golden Hour & The World Through Your Eyes

The only movement was a slight tilt to her head, first to the left, and then an almost imperceptible extending of her neck, up up higher higher until she was staring straight down into the lake. Whoosh, as arrow beak pierced the surface, and her body lunged fully beneath the water, energy exploding water droplets everywhere. 

Great blue heron diving beneath the surface.

Great blue heron diving beneath the surface.

When last I wrote of The One that Didn’t Get Away, you saw the great blue heron flying off with her prize catch – an enormous pike in her beak. This was the scene only moments before, when her arrow beak pierced the surface, energy exploding droplets everywhere.

Thanks to Cheri Lucas Rowlands at WordPress for the inspiration of this Golden Hour Weekly Photo Challenge and also this Weekly Photo Challenge, where we were challenged to “share a photograph that shows a command of your frame. Lead our eyes somewhere. Make us focus on something.”
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(This took place October 7, 2007)

© 2013 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

You Can’t Catch Me – Daily Prompt: Ha Ha Ha

When last our dragonfly appeared in this blog, she was perched enticingly on the tip of heron’s beak.

Did you wonder if dragonfly became lunch that day?

(Spoiler alert.)

See for yourself. 

 © Babsje (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)   Dragonfly teasing great blue heron. © Babsje (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Dragonfly teasing great blue heron.

Is it just me, or did you also hear a dragonfly’s voice sing-songing that childhood playground taunt, “Nah nah nah boo-boo, you can’t catch me?”
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Thanks for the Daily Prompt nudge, Michelle W and WordPress.  
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© 2013 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Great Blue Heron, Dragonfly, Humor

The One that Didn’t Get Away – Weekly Photo Challenge: Curves

When the great blue heron resurfaced, her prize catch struggled mightily, the curve of its back straining left then right, scales and fins glistening.

The man in the hip waders put finger to his lips in the universal gesture of “ssssshhhh.”

I rounded the peninsula with smooth feathered strokes, and gave him wide berth. His casting looked slow and measured, with a little flourish as the fly arced out over the lake.

Fish were jumping that day, but not for him.

The green folding boat 20 yards away was having little better luck at fishing.

Across the lake, the tall wading bird plied the shore leisurely, biding her time.

Soon the flycaster in the silly hat would give up.

Soon the green boat would motor back through the channel to the lower lake.

Soon the cove would be hers.

Soon the fish that got away from Men, would be hers.

We waited together, she and I.

I let her take the lead, and soon enough she did.

Taking long purposeful strides, she passed the turtles lazing on the log, and parted the reeds.

Up and over the half-submerged pine trunk she climbed, all the while stalking something beneath the surface.

She stopped.

For more than 5 minutes she stood stock still in water up to her hips. She stared just offshore with an unceasing focus.

The only movement was a slight tilt to her head, first to the left, and then an almost imperceptible extending of her neck, up up higher higher until she was staring straight down.

Great blue heron landing large pike.

Great blue heron landing large pike.

Whoosh, as arrow beak pierced the surface, and her body lunged fully beneath the surface, energy exploding into water. Massive blue-grey wings half-unfurled broke the surface, rippling body muscles straining between wings and water.

How long she was under, I cannot say, I lost track of time, but when she resurfaced, her prize catch struggled mightily, the curve of its back straining left then right, scales and fins glistening. It was an epic fight.

And when she struggled to shore under the weight of her prey, I’m not sure whose eyes held more surprise — mine, hers, or the one that didn’t get away.
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Thanks to Sara Rosso at WordPress for the inspiration of this Weekly Photo Challenge!
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 (This took place October 7, 2007)

© 2013 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Thank you for the Super Sweet Blogger Award nomination

Petrel41 of dearkitty1 graciously and surprisingly nominated my blog for the Super Sweet Blogger award. Thanks for this warm honor, petrel41. Although we don’t know each other, I have been reading your blog for some time now. This post of yours from earlier this spring about the Cornell Great Blue Heron cam in particular, caught my attention.  To the readers here, visit petrel41’s site for an eclectic mix of offerings, especially the nature photographs. And also check out the Cornell heron cam when you have a few minutes, although I’ve found it difficult to stay for only “a few minutes,” myself.

Super Sweet Blogging Award

Super Sweet Blogging Award

When nominated for the Super Sweet Blogger Award the nominees have to 1. thank the super sweet blogger that nominated them. 2. nominate a baker’s dozen of other bloggers (see below; with links to their blogs), and 3. answer 5 super sweet questions. [and probably: 4. add the Super Sweet Blogging Award image to your blog post and 5. notify your nominees at their blogs].

1.Cookies or Cake?

Cookies

2. Chocolate or Vanilla?

Chocolate (In case of emergency, administer chocolate)

3. What is your favorite sweet treat?

Chocolate mousse cake

4. When do you crave sweet things the most?

After long walks in the snow

5. If you had a sweet nickname, what would it be?

Sweet Pea (this actually was a nickname years ago)

My baker’s dozen nominees for the Super Sweet Blogging Award are, in no particular order of preference:

Women in Planetary Science   (because women + science)

The Dragonfly Woman  (because dragonflies)

Jerry Katz on Nonduality (because Jerry is the rock star of Nonduality)

Wind Against Current  (because kayaking)

Sheila Hurst (because wonderful dog romping in vacation post)

Living in Gratitude  (because hummingbirds)

A Wild One Within  (because authenticity)

Twng32  (because earnest practice of photography)

HERON (because saving herons)

Diamond Mike Watson (because fellow adoptee)

This Time This Space (because community focus)

This Would Make A Great Story… (because argyle sox!!)

Thanks again for recognizing my blog with this warm award nomination, petrel41!

Saturday Poker Game

You’re going to have some explaining to do, Mister! Another long poker session with the boys? You’re a father now!

Heading out first thing that Saturday morning, I was apprehensive that the herons’ nest might have been abandoned, as it had been a few years ago. Our Independence Day holiday was three days earlier. It had been a magical day on the water on the 4th of July, but that night back at home, I cringed in bed listening to hours and hours of fireworks going off from the general direction of the lake. My home is only a block or so away from the southern-most end of the lake, and from the relentless percussion of the booms, it was clear that some private homes were setting fireworks off over the water.

If it sounded that loud to me, what must it have sounded like to the herons? Adult herons frightened by loud noises have been known to abandon nests, and the chicks – how would that sort of boom and blast affect the hearing of chicks that are less than two weeks out of the egg?

So, it was with deep gratitude that, as I rounded the point and the island came into view, I saw the adult female standing guard patiently above the nest. Through the binocs, I could see the two chicks present and accounted for, and sparring with each other – butting bills together in the heron equivalent of lion cubs tussling and rolling each other over. So, three of four herons remained at the nest, the adult and two chicks.

Great blue heron on final approach to the nest.

Great blue heron on final approach to the nest.

And the adult male? Usually, he arrives at the nest around 11am, to relieve the female, but he was late, and getting later.

By 1pm, the female had climbed off the nest, and up a tall branch. She stood at full height for a long, long time, looking in the direction from which her mate usually arrives. The male stayed out on his fishing trip much longer than usual, and finally showed up for the changing of the parental guard around 2:30 pm. 

I’m not sure what goes through a mother heron’s mind, but while she was staring off so expectantly for her long-overdue mate, at one point her body language seemed to say, “You’re going to have some explaining to do, Mister! Another long poker session with the boys? You’re a father now!”
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 (This took place July, 2012)

© 2013 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Brown Bag Lunch in the Cove

There were many dragonflies – tasty and I love how their wings tickle on my tongue…

 © Babsje (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)   Great blue heron eye-to-eye with dragonfly.

Great blue heron eye-to-eye with dragonfly.

The eastern-most  end of the cove is the feeding ground and roostng spot for one of the older herons. He is very wary and gorgeous, and it’s always a thrill to see him here, wading, foraging for fish or sunning himself on the overturned willow that came down the year before.

Yesterday, I visited a couple hours earlier than prime feeding time, and so he wasn’t about. That made an opportunity to paddle in closer.

Right stroke… left stroke… right blade planted shallowly… now a broad arc around the white blossoms… left stroke… gliding straight now, past the lily pads… Gliding… Gliding… Gliding up to the fallen willow where he often preens.

Look! A big blue-grey flight feather floating there, a downy belly feather tuft, too. And beyond the willow, paddling deeper to where it stops being cove and starts being brook. What’s the name of that blue flower? Must look it up. This is where the yellow daisies bloomed last fall, it must be.

The water level is much higher than ever. How deeply I can paddle without bottoming out, or getting stuck, like last summer. That was a long slow slog back out.

Mustn’t tarry too long here, but what a beautiful place. Serene, still, and so many wild flowers, lush ferns. He may be back soon…

Right paddle planted deep, hard stroke left, bring the boat around sharply. Yes, like that. Stroke… Glide… Stroke… Glide… Glide… Stroke, stroke, stroke.

There! Back in neutral territory, away from his space. Can rest now, and cruise along on the breeze. Floating… Floating… 

I’m hungry. Where’s a good picnic spot? Ah, right here: not too close to the trees, a little shade, still waters, a good place for a floating lunch. Paddle leashed and propped ‘cross the cockpit. Lunch bag open. Hot tea, warm oatmeal – maple syrup and brown sugar.

Mmmm. That was very good. Satisfying in the fresh air. Well, time to head in. Close the tea mug, stow the lunch containers, don the gloves, paddle ready.

Wait, what’s that on the island shore? Hunkered down? Watching me…

Watching me…

Watching me?

Later that evening, just after dusk, back at home.

“How was your outing, dear?”

“Oh, so lovely. There were many dragonflies – tasty and I love how their wings tickle on my tongue…

“And so many sunfish – the smallish ones, not so many bones. Did you ever notice how irridescent they are? If you hover your wings just so over the water so the sun gets that glowy filtering while you stir the bottom just right with your left foot, they’re much easier to see… and to catch.

“But the most unusual thing happened. I was out at the cove, wading along the small island shore when I saw it, right before my eyes. A human…

“I watched in silence for the longest time.

“It is not so rare to see a human in the cove, and there’s one who sometimes watches me when I’m down at the end, where its more brook than cove. You know the place. She thinks I’m not aware of her presence, but I am. I just let her think that.

“I sometimes put on a show for her, preening, stretching my neck far back to get at that itchy spot right over my left shoulder. Or extending my wings half open, down low. 

“And I love to show her how to fish. How to be patiently still, toeing the water beneath the surface imperceptably, watching for the telltale glint of a fin, swish of a tail…

“Whoosh, thrust, submerge, a clean strike. The trout is mine!

“And I surface, wriggling trout speared. A beauty.

“Usually I just wolf it down, but sometimes –  sometimes – I want to show her. And so gradually I step and turn and stand there so she can see what a beauty I have caught. What a beauty I am.

“She loves to watch me feeding from a distance.

“And today?

“Today I watched a human in my cove…

“A human… feeding.

“They have curious feeding rituals, humans do.”

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 (This took place August 23, 2008)

© 2013 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

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