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Recent sightings

  • 12 September 2014

    Autumn rustles at Fairburn Ings!

    Autumn is definitely in the air at Fairburn Ings! Just a quick walk around the reserve and you can already see leaves starting to look tired and droopy compared the fresh, bright reds of the newly emerged berries. I love watching the gradual change in the leaves as they turn steadily more and more reddish as the season changes. Rose-hips, blackberries and hawthorn berries are great for so many of our small rodents on the reserve and though you might not always see them they are definitely there! Just keep an eye open for small burrows in amongst grass, on banks or along hedge/ fences and that’s a definite sign of the presence of a bank vole, field vole or common/ pigmy shrews. Below is a picture of a bank vole which has the definite rounded-nose of the vole and longer tail than the field vole. Field voles also leave lots of broken blades of grass outside their burrows which are cut at around 45 degree angles. Have a look under the hazel trees for signs of cracked hazelnuts signalling the presence of squirrels, birds and rodents quickly munching on a cheeky hazelnut. Squirrels tend to break the nut right in half leaving nice clean halves whereas rodents leave obvious gnawing holes on the nut. Take a look you’ll be amazed what you can identify from just a few field signs!

    Bank Vole – Guy Roberts (RSPB-images)

    Yesterday we had a first for the year at Fairburn Ings – a stonechat was spotted at Pickup hide! Male stonechats have lovely striking black heads with a orangey-red breast and brown back, females do still have the orangey-tinge to their chests but lack the obvious black heads of the males. The birds get their name for the sharp call which sounds like two stones being tapped together. They are usually seen on upland heaths and coastal areas the rest of the year where they usually breed but during the winter months they tend to move around more so that’s why we’ve got some visiting Fairburn Ings. We’ve also had a goldcrest this week at Lin Dike, which are quite rare visitors to the reserve and being so small very hard to spot! There tiny beaks are often used to pick out insects from between pine needles just to give you an idea of how small and delicate they are!


    Stonechat – Steve Round (RSPB-images)

    Fungi around the reserve are changing every week now so make sure you keep an eye! I’m definitely having fun trying to ID all the different species; some of the names are actually quite funny! Down Cut lane before Charlies hide there are quite a few shaggy inkcaps which are long, white and thin with shaggy white bits on the top. These prefer grass areas and recently disturbed soil in late summer to early autumn. Another common fungi visitor to Fairburn Ings is Birch polypore with a flat-bell like look to them as they grow on Birch trees along the Riverbank trail. They always remind me of shelves the way they sort of hand along the side of the tree! There are also quite a few fly algaric’s which are the classic, unmistakable red and white mushrooms and can be in amongst the birch trees along the riverbank path. Identifying mushrooms is a hard task but can be fun to see all the amazing types you can get... remember there are lots of the things on the reserve floor too!


    Shaggy inkcap

    Posted by Heather W

  • 5 September 2014

    Fairburn Ings - long journey stop off for birds and people

    There is a growing autumnal feel to the sightings at Fairburn Ings recently, the fungi are popping up everywhere, including fly agaric along the Riverbank Trail. Increasing numbers of birds like wigeon and teal, which will spend the winter here after breeding further east in countries like Russia, have been seen on the Flashes and Main Lake.  These birds create the soundscape of the reserve throughout winter with their distinctive whistling calls.  As well as early arrivals for winter, we have some birds which are passing through on their migration south for the winter, including green sandpipers, which have been seen at Pickup Hide throughout the week. These birds breed in Europe from the arctic circle down to Denmark, and also across Russia to Siberia and China.  These birds are calling in at Fairburn en route to Central Africa. Fairburn Ings has long been a popular place for migrating birds to stop of at, it has always been marshy land, ideal for wading birds, and its location, right next to the River Aire means it is almost like the Services on the M1, birds following the river can just pull off and grab some food and a bit of rest.  Much like some of our human visitors who stop off at Fairburn on their own journeys up, down and across the country.  This time of year is great for catching a glimpse of some of these passing visitors.  Keep an eye on the blog, our twitter account @fairburnings and our Facebook page for the latest sightings info.

    I got this photo of a fly agaric on the Riverbank Trail last autumn.

    On a more summery note, there are still plenty of insects about, lots of speckled wood butterflies, and dragonflies including common darters, ruddy darters and migrant hawkers.  It is likely some of these will be about for a few more weeks, maybe longer if the weather stays mild.

    We’ve had a number of sightings of marsh harriers this week, we blogged earlier in the week about the wing tagged marsh harriers, the bird seen at Fairburn was tagged in Norfolk on 1 July 2014, and was born on 11 June 2014. Marsh harriers are often seen flying over the Flashes and Pickup pool, they have a lovely lazy flight, with a shallow v-shape to their wings, as they quarter over the grassland and reedbeds looking for food.

    Other sightings of interest include a great white egret seen on the Flashes on Thursday and Friday. A spotted redshank at New Flash on Wednesday. A tree pipit seen flying south over the tips on Thursday, several little owl sightings on Wednesday around the Flashes and Newton Farm, plus blackcaps and a grey wagtail at Lin Dike.  The kingfishers have made a couple of appearances at the Kingfisher Screen this week, they are often spotted on Cut Lane too.

    Please let us know if you see anything interesting during your visit to Fairburn Ings, the sightings book is always in the visitor centre, and we love hearing about the cool stuff you see on the reserve.

    Posted by Beki

  • 31 August 2014

    Is it summer or autumn today?

    Its a funny time of year right now, we’ve still got some of our classic summer wildlife about including plenty of dragonflies and damselflies, I spotted these darters on the fence near the pond dipping platform, always a good spot to look for these insects as they bask in the sun to warm up.


    We’re also getting some more autumnal wildlife, with migrating birds like redstarts (seen in the hedges near Pickup hide), spotted flycatchers (by the pond dipping platform), whinchats (on the flashes) and an osprey (flying over the visitor centre) all seen this week.  Plus the reserve is cram jam full of berries, there are blackberries, elderberries, haws, rosehips and sloes hanging from nearly every hedgerow.  I love this time of year, picking blackberries is great fun, and its a great way to get the family out enjoying the best of British wildlife, the incentive of a blackberry and apple crumble at the end is surely enough to get most people out of the house.  I am always conscious of making sure I leave some berries for the birds, after all, the berries are a vital source of food for them.  There are always the ones you can’t quite reach, a bit too high, or too many nettles or thorns in the way, they are the ones the birds can have.



    Another common sight at Fairburn Ings at the moment is this peculiar looking thing., nearly always on dog rose branches.


    This is what is known as a robins pincushion, it doesn’t have anything to do with robins though, although the image of a robin doing a bit of sewing sounds like something out of a Beatrix Potter story.  This ball of fluff is a gall, created by a gall wasp called Dipoloepis rosae.  The adult wasp lays its eggs on the leaf bud of the dog rose in spring, the gall is created as the eggs hatch and the larvae emerge, in order to protect the larvae.  The larvae will emerge as adult wasps next spring.  The gall itself is a distorted leaf, the result of a chemical reaction in the emerging leaf or bud.  The galls start off green, but at this time of year they start to turn red.  The adult wasp is pretty small, females are about 4mm (0.2inches) long with red-yellow abdomen and legs, the rest of the body is black. The males are a bit smaller with yellow legs, but you are unlikely to see a male as they make up about 1% of the total population of this type of gall wasp.  This is one of over 1000 species of gall wasp world wide, with around 300 species present in Europe.  

    Posted by Beki

  • 25 August 2014

    Thinking about winter sun...already!

    Over the last few days we've had a few different birds listed in our recent sightings book including redstarts, spotted flycatchers, whinchats and wheatears.  These birds are all likely to be passing through Fairburn as they start to head south for the winter.  Yep, its that time already. They are all at the beginning of a long perilous journey, whinchats, wheatears and redstarts will spend the winter in the southern Mediterranean, or North Africa in countries such as Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia,  whilst the spotted flycatchers will be travelling south of the equator, down to the Congo, Angola and some as far as South Africa.  These birds will be joined by millions of others heading south for some winter sun, including the sand martins, swallows and swifts which have spent the summer at Fairburn Ings.  The sand martins we’ve been watching fledge from the sand martin wall at Pickup Hide will soon be flying thousands of miles down to Africa, crossing the Sahara.

    (Spotted flycatcher image by Andy Hay rspb-images)

    Water levels have been quite high on the reserve with the recent the heavy rainfall, so there haven’t been as many waders about, but we’ve had big numbers of lapwings at Big Hole, with about over 100 there several times during the last few days.  We’ve also had several sightings of marsh harriers recently, including a report of a young marsh harrier over the Flashes.  Male and female marsh harriers look quite different to each other, the males has quite distinctive wings, brown, with grey along the edge and black wing tops.  The females are dark brown with a cream coloured head and some cream colour to the leading edge of their wings, young marsh harriers are similar in appearance to females but don’t have the lighter wing markings.  These birds look stunning as they fly low over the grassland and reedbeds of the reserve on the hunt for small birds and mammals.  Look out for them at Pickup Hide, along the path down to Lin Dike, and from Lin Dike hide.

    (Marsh harrier image by Chris Gomersall rspb-images)

    Other highlights this week include an osprey which flew over Village Bay on Friday, water rail sightings on New Flash and Pickup Pool and a black necked grebe on Main Bay.

    There are still plenty of damselflies and dragonflies about too, common blue and azure blue damselflies are often catching some sun on the footpaths of the Discovery Trail, along with plenty of common darters and ruddy darters. Plus some of the bigger dragonflies like the southern hawker

    Posted by Beki

  • 15 August 2014

    Mid-August madness...

    It’s nearly the weekend which means time to have a look at what’s been spotted around the reserve this week. Walking around the discovery trail it was obvious the sun had bought all the insects out! There were loads of common darter dragonflies about yesterday which are the larger red dragonflies and quite easy to notice zooming quickly about the paths. Ruddy darter damselflies have also been quite commonly seen about the discovery trail this week. Another clouded yellow butterfly was seen along the Riverbank trail on Wednesday, along with many meadow browns and a few more brown argus’s seen throughout the reserve. The lovely brown argus butterfly looks very similar to the common blue from the outer wing tips however with a good view you can clearly see the darker brown and orange wings with white frilled edges. Yorkshire is the edge of the brown argus’s northern boundary and is steadily moving in a northwards direction so it can sometimes be confused with the northern brown argus which doesn’t have the orange wing markings. Let’s hope for more sunshine next week so we can see more butterflies!


    Brown Argus


    Our lovely female mandarin duck has been seen again this week on the duck feeding platform. There have been reports of three redstarts along the River on Thursday. These are very easy to identify because of their bright red-orange breasts, which against all this greenery about at the moment is very easy to see. They are also very similar to robins with their characteristic bobbing up and down. Water levels have been very high this week due to all the heavy rain which has meant that waders are quite low on the ground. Although there have been a few sightings of green sandpipers and common sandpipers about at Bob dickens hide.


    Common sandpiper – Andy Hay (RSPB-images)

    One of my favourite woodland birds has to be the treecreeper so I am always happy when I see them in the book! One was seen along the boardwalk yesterday although a more common place to see them is along by Village Bay hide on the birch trees. Marsh harriers were spotted on Wednesday by Lin Dike hide, along with a few kestrels also seen by the Dike. Sparrow hawks are currently having a great time with all the many tree sparrows and juveniles about by the feeders! A stout was also seen around Lin Dike the other morning with the familiar black tail dashing into the hedge. There have also been sightings of roe deer around Bob Dickens hide this week.


    Tree creeper – Steve Round (RSPB-images)


    I was surprised at how long the chicory by the visitor centre has lasted! It’s still looking lovely despite all the wind and rain which has knocked it slightly. Purple loosestrife and hedge woundwort, the long purple flowers fill up the vegetation along the discovery trail paths. Hedge bedstraw which is the long spindly plant covered in white cloudy flowers is also looking great in our wildflower patch in front of the centre. Our wildlife garden is also booming at the moment, it’s also worth checking out where we are getting our new shelter by the garden!

    Hedge bedstraw –

    Posted by Heather W

  • 11 August 2014

    Time to buff up on your caterpillars!

    So after all the rain of yesterday it is quite a nice surprise to see the sun shining once more! One thing I would like to mention first off, and I have heard many mention this as they wonder round the reserve, is how early the blackberries are this year! Walking up Cut lane there are loads of blackberries already ripening lovely and black perfect for feeding up all of them young fledglings. We have had so many juvenile tree sparrows by the feeders this year; only yesterday by the visitor centre feeders did we count at least 40 tree sparrows. Tree sparrows can raise up to three broods a year so no wonder there are so many about make sure you’re still keeping your feeders full!

    Tree Sparrow - Ray Kennedy (RSPB images)

    Pickup hide has been offering many treats over the past couple of weeks including a juvenile water rail spotted last Tuesday in amongst the reeds. Juvenile water rails are made recognisable for their soft brown downy fur instead of the distinguishable grey underneath of the adults, and obviously they have much shorter bills. Eight snipe were also seen at Pickup on Friday, these are fairly common sights for Pickup hide this time of year now because of all the exposed mud scrapes and raised water levels. Curlew have been seen on New Flash this past week, these are the largest UK wading bird with a very long down-curved bill. The bird is named for its whistling ‘curr- lee’ call which mainly signals its courtship but can be enjoyed throughout the year. You’ll definitely know if you’ve heard a curlew!


    Curlew – Andy Hay (RSPB images)

    Wheatear have been spotted towards the Flashes, I always enjoy these birds as they busily bob over the ground with their pretty grey and yellow markings. Wheatear are summer visitors to the reserve so can be expected to be seen more frequently until September. We’ve had a rare sighting of a clouded yellow butterfly also this week! These butterflies rarely make it to adulthood due to damp and frost which is fatal for much of the population, however due to the good year we have had so far and the lack of frost some of these species have managed succeed in the UK. They can be easily mistaken for common whites as they also have the familiar black dot markings which the common whites also have. The clouded yellow butterfly was sighted at Hicksons flash on Saturday and hopefully more will be seen later into the summer.


    Clouded yellow (UK 

    There are loads of various caterpillars about this time of year. You can spend quite some time scanning the internet or looking through ID books trying to match the caterpillar with the butterfly or moth species! Walking up the river path we spotted a group of caterpillars huddled together on an Oak tree branch. We managed to ID them as a collection of buff-tip moth caterpillars which are the moths which always manage to look very camouflaged against wooden twigs! These caterpillars are yellow and black striped covered in white fluff. They feed on these deciduous trees before pupating (turning into adulthood) on the ground under the tree. July and August are the most common time to see these amazing caterpillars so keep your eyes peeled!

    Buff-tip caterpillars (Heather Watkin)

    Buff-tip moth (Emma Cuthbertson)

    Posted by Heather W

  • 8 August 2014

    Fairburn Ings is buzzing!

    Its been a busy week at Fairburn Ings, its the school holidays so we've had plenty of visitors and a wide variety of wildlife too.  This time of year is great for watching dragonflies and damselflies, they tend to hang around the Discovery trail, the smaller pond dipping pond is a good spot for dragonflies like the southern and brown hawker, the wooden fencing is a popular with damselflies, which seem to like sitting there in the sun.  If you keep your eyes peeled whilst walking around the Discovery Trail you've got a good chance of seeing 8 or 9 different species including ruddy darters, blue-tailed damselflies and the stunning emperor dragonfly.

    The sunny days have also brought out plenty of butterflies, as well as the comma, which Julie talked about in the last blog, we've had good numbers of speckled wood, peacock, gatekeeper and meadow brown.  I always struggle to tell the difference between the gatekeeper and meadow brown, they are both orange and brown butterflies and at the speeds that butterflies fly around, it isn't always easy to pick the differences. So I've got some top tips to tell them apart.

    1. The meadow brown is bigger than the gatekeeper (although not always easy to tell if you don’t see them together)
    2. When the wings are open gatekeepers have much more orange on both the forewing and hindwing than meadow browns
    3. When their wings are closed they look much more similar, both have a brown hindwing, orange forewing and black eye spot at the top of the forewing, but the gatekeeper has distinctive white spots on the underside of the hindwing and the meadow brown as a couple of small brown spots.

    Gatekeeper butterfly, photo from ukbutterflies by Iain Leach

    Meadow brown photo from ukbutterflies by Vince Massimo

    Next time you visit hopefully you’ll be able to tell whether you are looking at a meadow brown or gatekeeper, don’t forget to note it down in the sightings book too.

    We’ve had several sightings of red kites this week, they are fairly frequent visitors to the reserve, but they've been having a great time here this week following the tractor cutting the hay crop on the reserve.  Its a common sight at harvest time, red kites are real opportunists, in other words they like an easy meal. As the crops are cut all manner of wildlife including frogs and mice have to make a run for cover, that is all the opportunity red kites need.

    There’ve been quite a few good sightings from Pickup Hide this week, the water levels are pretty low at the moment, creating some mud for feeding wading birds, we’ve had green sandpipers and common sandpipers, adult and juvenile water rails and snipe.  A great white egret was spotted on the reserve this week flying over Pickup Hide.

    Elsewhere on the reserve, at Lin Dike there have been curlew, wheatears, a ruff, yellow wagtail and a black-tailed godwit.  There are also plenty of young birds about, there have been lots of juvenile tree sparrows and blue tits on the feeders at the visitor centre, plus young shovellers, tufted ducks and coots out on the water.

    Hopefully we'll see you over the weekend, don't forget to pop in and let us know what you've seen during your visit.

    Posted by Beki

  • 30 July 2014

    Summer sightings at Fairburn Ings

    a busy week here again at Fairburn Ings! With the start of the summer holidays the reserve is looking on top form as ever with beautiful purple loosestrife growing around the discovery trail next to lots of rosebay willowherb and hedge woundwort. It amazes me how far reaching rosebay willowherb always seem to spread. Apparently ground clearing as a result of the world wars provided perfect conditions for this plant to spread from being a scarce woodland plant to ‘bombweed’ as it’s sometimes referred to! There is also plenty of honeysuckle to be found (and smelt!) along the riverbank. Also keep an eye out for great willowherb along cut lane and the Lin Dike route. Great willowherb does look very similar to rosebay willowherb but without the ring of flowers and with just a single flower-head. Black medick has been living up to it’s name recently also with its black seed pods coiled and ready to plant themselves in the ground to appear next year. Wild carrot is also quite established around the entrance to the playground by the centre. This looks very similar to cow parsley but with a larger head and with long green spindly bracts underneath as an identifying feature. If you notice any new wildflowers, why not pop them in the sightings book?

    Rosebay willowherb – Andy Hay (RSPB-images)

    I was amazed this week whilst walking around the visitor centre in the hot afternoon I came across a whole swarm of peacock butterflies! After getting used to seeing so many small gatekeepers this week it was a shock to 4 or 5 of these large butterflies fluttering round! The markings on the peacock I always think are very stereotypical for a butterfly with four large red and blue eye-like patterns on the wing ends. There are still loads of different dragonflies and damselflies to spot around the reserve. From ruddy darters to large emperor dragonflies you’re sure to see plenty especially by the riverpath on the way to Lin Dike. Brown and southern hawkers which are some of the larger dragonflies and are in fact the fastest flying dragonflies found in the UK giving them the ability to catch their prey in mid-air.

    Male southern hawker dragonfly – Dragonfly days


    There were a host of waders to been seen from Pickup hide yesterday with greenshank, common sandpipers, little ringed plovers, snipe, water rail and fifteen green sandpipers! These green sandpipers have spent the week around Pickup hide with their characteristic head-bobbing when standing still. Oystercatchers can also be heard with their playful calls around Big hole and four spotted by Pickup hide on Monday. A tawny owl was seen close to the kingfisher screen this week, bobbing along the path before taking flight! The tawny owls large white framed eyes is the most defining feature for me, giving them a soft look. One of our volunteers has brought some little owl pellets in to put on the nature shelves in the visitor centre so if you’d like a closer look at owl pellets come and have a look!

     Tawny owl –

    Lovely lapwings are everywhere on the reserve this time of year after a very successful year of breeding. There were roughly 270 counted at Big Hole last Wednesday and there are still loads to be seen elsewhere on the reserve, especially from Lin Dike hide. A marsh harrier was also spotted over by Spoonbill flash last Wednesday, females are quite easily recognised by their yellow heads and darker brown plumage compared to the lighter plumage of the males. These are such impressive birds and the largest of the harrier family... always a treat to spot! Garganey can still be sighted at New Flash alongside black-tailed godwits which are now quite commonly seen over towards the flashes. It is also worth noticing the large amounts of small rodents around the reserve at the moment with lots of little legs scurrying across paths around the discovery trail in the evenings. With their large litters there are lots of shrews and wood mice scampering around looking to find seeds and berries to eat, and lots of birds keeping an eye out for them too...

    Female marsh harrier – Ben Hall (RSPB-images)

    Posted by Heather W

  • 19 July 2014

    We love our nettles!

    Well the sun has stopped shining but that doesn’t mean the wildlife here at Fairburn Ings has! We’ve had a spectacular morning for moths again this morning after last nights warm evening, perfect for our ‘meet the moths’ session. We could barely catch them there were so many! One of our favourite moths we caught today was a swallowtail moth which has such an awesome shape, amazingly very similar to a swallow with its pointed bottom wings. In total we had 142 moths and that is just a typical day of moth trapping here at Fairburn Ings at the minute with the warm weather. We’ve still have loads of gatekeeper butterflies on the reserve this week, with lots of green veined whites arriving too, especially around the visitor centre. The sound of grasshoppers will be keeping you company now in July. Did you know that the ‘stridulation’ (posh word for the noise they make when they rub two body parts together to make a noise!) is mainly made by the males to attract a female? One other very common insect which has been about this last week is the red soldier beetle. These are red-brown and can often be seen mating on hogweed and other open flowers like cow parsley.

    Red soldier beetle – English Country Garden

    This morning we’ve had lots of green sandpipers with 12 counted at Pickup hide and some over on Main bay alongside common sandpipers. We’ve had a great white egret spotted once again here on the reserve, seen from Lin Dike hide alongside all the many little egrets which are still about and in quite clear view. Some of you might have seen the great video of the two spoonbills which came to visit us on Wednesday afternoon! They were still flying between the Moat and Pickup hide, presuming that they were the same two which came to visit us a few weeks ago!

    Two spoonbills – John Ingham (assistant warden)

    There are a number of warblers making a noise this week including grasshopper warblers over by Pickup on Wednesday and a garden warbler was also heard at Lin Dike on Wednesday. I still love the sound of the grasshopper warbler’s insect-like call! There are still plenty of reed warblers singing over on Lin Dike and around the reserve up from the kingfisher screen. A fox was spotted by Big Hole on Wednesday. Now is the time when foxes will most likely have young so they will be busy looking for food for their young cubs.


    Fox – Grahame Madge (RSPB images)

    Our wardens are on a never-ending task at the moment in trying to manage all the vegetation on the reserve! The warm weather, sunshine and rain have meant that everything on the reserve is growing wildly and looking extremely healthy! Our beautiful rosebay willowherb is still growing alongside hedge roundwort along the discovery trail path. We also have loads of honeysuckle growing around Redshale road leaving a lovely scent as you walk through the reserve. One very understated ‘weed’ which is seen as a nuisance to most but is extremely useful for our wildlife is our lovely nettle! Yes I’m not going to pretend I have been stung on numerous occasions and hated the plant but after seeing how useful it is I think my appreciation for nettles has greatly increased! The stinging defence of the nettle provides such a good defence for the plants and also for insects. Firstly they encourage over 40 species of butterflies including peacock and tortoiseshell larvae. Nettle patches swarm with aphids which provide such a valuable food source for newly-emerged ladybirds, blue tits and other woodland birds. Nettles do tend to take-over your garden and sting you but before you start hating them too much just take into account how many insects they provide a home for and how useful that food source is for all of our birds!

    Nettle – Andy Hay (RSPB images)

    Posted by Heather W

Your sightings

Grid reference: SE4527 (+2km)

Great White Egret ()
5 Sep 2014
Green Sandpiper ()
28 Sep 2014
Marsh Harrier (1)
26 Sep 2014
Black-tailed Godwit (7)
26 Sep 2014
Kingfisher (1)
26 Sep 2014
Tree Sparrow ()
25 Sep 2014
Spotted Redshank (1)
25 Sep 2014
Garganey (1)
23 Sep 2014
Montagu's Harrier ()
16 Sep 2014
Wigeon ()
28 Sep 2014

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Where is it?

  • Lat/lng: 53.74373,-1.31765
  • Postcode: WF10 2BH
  • Grid reference: SE451277
  • Nearest town: Castleford, West Yorkshire
  • County: West Yorkshire
  • Country: England

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