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A Report from

Slovakia, 10 – 17 May 2006,

Richard Dunn

Richard Dunn, Stewart Sexton, John Rutter, Rob Hopson

An email from Stewart asking if I would like to go on a trip he was arranging set the plan in motion. Cheap EasyJet flights to Budapest, reasonable car hire and decent places to stay not to mention good birds and cheap beer, I was in.

May 10 Wednesday

Arrived at Budapest airport and picked up the hire car (Fiat Multipla) from the representative who was waiting with a board with my name on it. Once again got lost trying to leave Budapest, the same as happened last year and the same thing that happened to Stewart 6 years ago, again poor road signs. Asked at a petrol station and all was not lost we could get the right road to Godollo where we had booked rooms for our first night. Accommodation was good with a room each. The owner offered us beer and a palyinka which is a traditional Hungarian drink, this one made with plums. Lying in bed a Nightingale could be heard singing in the wood across the road.

May 11 Thursday

Up very early unable to sleep very well because of the Nightingale singing just outside in the wood across the road, which we saw well when it got light enough to see. Before breakfast we went birding around what appeared to be the local allotments. Many good birds here the highlights being plenty of Golden Oriole a couple of which showed well, a shabby looking white-headed race Long-tailed Tit and territorial Hoopoe’s in the village. From here we drove east towards Km105 on the M3 motorway where Stewart had Imperial Eagle six years ago but when we got there none of the area was familiar to him, we drove on and off the motorway onto the old 3 road and back to Km 105 where we eventually saw a distant Imperial Eagle also here Montagu’s Harrier, Lesser Grey Shrike and a male Ashy-headed Wagtail. From here on into Slovakia, at the border crossing, despite both Hungary and Slovakia being in the EU you still need to show passports and have authorization from the car hire company to take the car through. Straight on to Košice where we were staying as we had to meet the guide at the Hotel Slovan in the town center at 8am on the 12th.

Birded in Barca park which is just outside the pension where we were staying. The park was very good for a city center, it had nesting Fieldfare, a singing Icterine Warbler and a Green Woodpecker which I tried to string into a Grey-headed. Stewart phoned Samuel to let him know that we were in Košice. He came to meet us and discuss the route and plans, after he had left, we were already putting the ticks on the birds we wanted, he was so sure we would have no trouble seeing these birds.

Overnight pension Barca in Košice expensive

May 12 Friday

Met the guide, Samuel Pacenovsky, outside of the Hotel Slovan and drove to a site for Eagle Owl, sadly no joy here, it was his friend’s site and he was unsure of the exact location. Drove back to a park we had passed on the outskirts of Košice and went in. We had singing Marsh, River & Icterine Warbler’s, calling Corncrake, probably two, two Wryneck, Hawfinch nesting in a clump of mistletoe and more nesting Fieldfare, many with fledged young. From here drove via a huge Tesco to an area of forest at Bankov where we had Great and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, the Lesser at the nest. John saw Middle Spotted here and one was heard calling further into the wood. Tracking down birds mobbing something gave fantastic views of one of a pair of Ural Owls which gave a fly-by to end all fly-by’s. Also here at least four Collared Flycatcher, a Honey Buzzard and twelve Common Crane over. From here we then drove to the digs at Porác dropped off the bags and went miles and miles on a wild owl chase to an area of woodland between Smolnik and Stos. The guide claimed here that this was an area occupied by Tengmalm’s and Pygmy Owls and he was hearing them when we were there with him but none of us could, although we could hear barking dogs from the village down the hill about 2 kilometers away, and then after the wild Owl chase we had to travel miles and miles back to the accommodation. The guide should have explained that the distance and the time involved that our plans would not have worked. Over night in a chalet at a hostal type place near Porác, we didn’t get back till midnight and the woman had waited up for us and had prepared a meal, soup and chicken with rice, all very nice but a bit heavy so late in the day

Overnight Porácska dolina just out of Porác a communist style dormitory affair, although we ate in the main hall we had a chalet to sleep in.

May 13 Saturday

Before we had left the overnight stay we had a pair of Golden Eagle displaying overhead, then back again to the area of forest that we had visited last night and had the same result today; nothing. To be fair we heard a Red-breasted Flycatcher which was high up in the canopy (can get better views in the Autumn on the East Coast) but we had paid for a guide to get us White-backed and Three-toed Woodpecker and Pygmy and Tengmalm’s Owls and the guide had assured us that we would see these birds as he knew of territories for the owls and nest holes for the two woodpeckers only 50 meters apart. The Three-toed “nest” hole was very fresh about 40ft up a dead tree, no activity here at all so Stewart asked Samuel if he knew of a spot where we could see both this hole and the White-backed Woodpeckers nest from. Samuel disappeared for a while and when he came back said he had found a spot to look from and both nests and also a Black Woodpecker nest hole could be seen. Spirits raised, we moved to this new spot and waited. Nothing, at the supposed nests, Stewart went down the very steep bank to have a look at the White-backed nest hole, and when he came back the news was grim, it was not a fresh hole, in fact it was an old hole which had not been used for some time. We think that when Samuel was in the woods checking places he has seen woodpeckers in these areas even on these trees and just said that they were nests. From here after a long walk back to the car we headed for Poprad and over ruled the guide on the route as he wanted to head back into the hills on minor roads while we, now totally disillusioned, wanted to make for our next stop. We dropped the guide off at Poprad railway station and headed straight to the High Tatras at Stary Smokovec.

Overnight Hotel Atrium at Novy Smokovec

May 14 Sunday

Drove up to the hotel Horsky which is up the hill behind Stary Smokovec and walked uphill into the woods for a good distance (at least it seemed like a good distance), we stopped at likely looking spots and looked and listened but not much was happening, then when we came to a small clearing with a stream we stopped again. After a while of nothing, I dug out the Ipod and played Nutcracker and almost immediately saw, out of the corner of my eye, a bird fly over but out of sight. So played the call again and got an instant response from a pair of Nutcrackers which sat at the tops of near by trees and preened and looked around trying to see the intruder, they stayed for about five minutes before flying off, I had my first new bird of the trip. While here a comment from John about the colour of a slug had the unusual response from Stewart “is it blue?” John replied in the positive and we had found a Carpathian Blue Slug!!!!!! On the way back down at a good looking spot I played the Pygmy Owl call, we didn’t get a response, but we were mobbed by Crested Tits, Chaffinch and Treecreeper which made us think that these birds new that predator. Back at the car a pair of Ring Ouzel were collecting food and showing very well. From here we drove on to Strbské Pleso (on the way drove through an area that had been flattened by very strong winds two or three years ago, very few trees left standing) to use the chair lift, only to discover when we arrived that it was not working. While here we had more Fieldfare and Ring Ouzel. So a change of plan and a drive back through the collective Smokovec’s to Tatranská Lomnica to use the chair lift and cable car to get to high alpine habitat, only to discover that this was also closed for maintenance. Another change of plan and another walk in the woods at Kežmarské Žlaby where we saw a Black Woodpecker and found a nest box for either Pygmy or Tengmalm’s Owl (it was unoccupied). From here we took a drive on a small forestry road back towards Stary Smokovec. Along here we had 6 Red-backed Shrikes and then a shout from the back and a dark woodpecker with a white back was flying across the road in front of the car, a Three-toed Woodpecker had flushed from the ground at the roadside. Fortunately it landed and gave good views, a female, watched it preen then move off to different perches. A major new bird for me and very pleased we were. While here we also had a continental Willow Tit. Drove back to hotel Horsky and went back to the spot where we had been mobbed by Crested Tits this morning and played Pygmy Owl call again. No joy, not even mobbed by any small birds so back down the hill and tried again, no joy. Back down to the car then drove down a way and tried again. By now we were below the hotel and things were looking bad, my comment “ if only we could get a response” was very nearly cut short by a Pygmy Owl calling, back up the hill, so back up we went and played the call back to it, and it came to just about the last tree in the forest and called, we could see it in just about the last light of the day, my third new bird and what a star (we now knew that the guide was not hearing any birds, this called from a long way off and we heard it, all four of us simultaneously and he claimed he was hearing birds when we were supposed to be on territories)

Overnight Hotel Atrium at Novy Smokovec

May 15 Monday

Drove South towards Poprad to join the main road and head East with a comment that there was no stopping as we had a long way to go and “no stopping not even for eagle’s”. We hadn’t gone five miles when John said “big bird coming up on the left” , a sharp stop revealed the bird to be an Imperial Eagle at tree top height over the road which we watched till it was quite high and moving off. On we went onto the main E50 road towards Prešov. Just to the west of Levoca a distant eagle proved to be a Lesser Spotted Eagle but views were poor and the place that we stopped at was down right dangerous, then just to the east Levoca an eagle at the edge of the road caused a quick stop into a parking area, this was also a Lesser Spotted Eagle and it came in to land on a bush that was in the same parking area that we had stopped in, the bird was even good enough to show us its identification features as we watched it. Continuing on to Prešov then Košice and eventually to Michalovce where we missed the turn to the Zemplinska reservoir, we only went about 20kms wrong so not too bad before it was realized. Found a nice place to stay near Jovsa, Pension Family where we had a suite of rooms for next to nothing. Leaving the gear in the rooms headed off to the Senne ponds. We parked at the end of a track at Blatné Remety and walked across a vast meadow, a Quail could be heard calling and we (Richard, Stewart and John, the Experience), told Rob, (the Inexperience), that he had no chance of seeing it, only for the bird to flush from the path edge and give a fantastic fly past for about 100 meters so much for that. Still in the same meadow we started seeing Marsh Harriers and Purple Herons then a Great White Egret and then a Short-toed Eagle. We walked on to the path round the reserve many good birds here; Whiskered and White-winged Black Terns, Great White and Little Egrets, a Black Kite, a Penduline Tit. Then we kept walking heading towards a viewing tower type affair this turned out to be the fish ponds and the guys who worked there came and kicked us off. Not literally but we were told we were not allowed to be there. Two of the workers then headed off in the direction of where the car was parked, having read about car crime in Slovakia we took no chances and headed back following them and when we got back to the car, all was well, we had over reacted. Back down this track was an area of scrub that had a showy River Warbler so we stopped there for a time photographing it. Drove back towards Jovsa stopping at the reservoir to check out a nightingale sp. that we had heard and seen on the way out earlier, the conclusion was that it was Common Nightingale and not Thrush Nightingale. A brief stop at Jovsa gave Turtle Doves on the wires and Serin on the wires in the village and twelve or more Hawfinch’s coming to a damp area to drink, these gave excellent views. Back to the rooms where I crashed on the sofa, my leg now very saw, swollen and tender after I had been bitten in the woods on Saturday.

Overnight  Pension Family at Jovsa , suite of rooms

May 16 Tuesday

The initial idea had been to have two nights here, but then I pointed out that we were still some distance from Budapest and I would rather be in the same country that I was to be flying home from on the day that I was flying, all agreed so today’s birding involved crossing back into Hungary then finding a place to stay. Left Jovsa and headed towards the Latorica river valley (East Slovakian Marshes in Where to Watch Birds in Eastern Europe, Gerard Gorman) . On the way down there we passed through Pavlovce which has a good looking park so we stopped and went in for a look, Syrian Woodpecker being the star performer here, also seen a Common Crane over, Golden Oriole, many Nightingales and some showy Serins by the band stand. On to a small village called Beša near Velké Kapušany where the guide had told us that there was a good flooded area. The undoubted highlight here was a Hobby that was chasing hirundines just over our heads, it actually did a loop, a superb display of flying. Also here twenty plus Whiskered Terns with Black Terns, Great White Egrets and a Bittern was heard calling. From here to Leles where there is a small Bee-eater colony, we had 21 birds. At Backa  a small village pond had five Little Bittern, a Night Heron, Whiskered Terns and a Red-necked Grebe. A male Red-backed Shrike was mobbed by two Marsh Warblers, a male Penduline Tit and a lot of House Sparrows. A distant Black Stork seen in flight took us to the village of Botany (which is almost on the border with the Ukraine) and onto a raised track through the woods where we eventually had a Black Stork stood on the track we were driving along, also along this route a couple of Lesser Grey Shrike, a hat full of River Warblers and a Barred Warbler. From here is was on to Hungary, crossed the border at Sátoraljaujhely then on to Tokaj. On the way into Tokaj we stopped to have a look in the quarry for Eagle Owl, no luck. Went and found some accommodation, while we were inside looking Stewart stayed outside and when we came back out he had us two Honey Buzzard’s and a Night heron to look at. Left the gear and went back to the quarry and this time eagle-eyed John found us an Eagle Owl (from the left rear corner of the left concrete pad look over a lilac bush on the first cliff to a white spot on the second cliff and the bird was here) also here  two Bee-eaters and a Kingfisher on the river.

Overnight Panzio Lux at Tokaj. Dirty but cheap, wouldn't recommend it.

May 17 Wednesday

Left Tokaj via the quarry (no Eagle Owl) and headed for Budapest and the airport via the Hortobágyi. Torrential rain during the drive so we saw very little. Drove past the famous Halastó fish ponds and went to Ohat which are easier to work. Here the rain was still falling very hard, a brief look gave us Ferruginous Duck and Pygmy Cormorant and the usual egrets and herons, as we left here three birds flying past the car were Glossy Ibis. Along the road towards Tiszafüred and a stop at the small car park opposite the Nagyiván turn off gave the desired result of hunting Red-footed Falcons. As we had driven along past an area of marsh a quick count of the White-winged Black Terns was twenty. The boys didn’t need much persuasion to go back along for the terns over the marsh. The count was seventy seven White-winged Black Tern until a Marsh Harrier went through and it was mobbed by hundreds of terns both White-winged Black and Whiskered. A look over the road gave many more terns flying over crop fields with Red-footed Falcons in with them. A common Crane flew over here. We then just headed via Nagyiván for the E4 that would take us to the airport, a brief stop at Szolnok and a Honey Buzzard was seen over the road then another stop at Pilis near the airport to sort the bags and a chance to change and we saw three Hobby flying over. Then that was it birding over, a very good trip.

My comment last year that “I will go back but later and  bite the bullet and use a guide”, turned out to be accurate. Now again, I will go back and I will NOT use a guide, it was a complete waste of money. It’s the first time I have paid for a guide, the second time Stewart has paid for a guide and on both occasions the result was the same, the main target species missed. The guide we had, Samuel Pacenovsky, was a good birder no doubt about that, but his sites didn’t produce the birds. Yes I know its woodland birding and you cant guarantee anything with birds but the area of woods we went to, in my notes, we had only ten species, a very poor show. Yet other areas we went to by ourselves we saw scores of birds of many species.

From airport to airport we did 1814km which my calculation says is 1127 miles.

Maps of the areas visited. (500kB pdf file)


Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
            Single in the Latorica at Beša

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)
            Common on lakes and ponds

Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena)
            2 seen in the Latorica valley,1 at Backa     and1 at Beša

Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis)
            4 at the Senne ponds (+ young) and 5 at Beša in the Latorica valley    

Pygmy Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmeus)
            3 at Ohat fish ponds  Hungary

Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)
            13 at Beša in the Latorica valley and breeding at Senne fish ponds

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
            5 in the Senne ponds area  

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)

Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea)
            Common at Senne ponds and Ohat fish ponds Hungary

Great White Egret (Ardea alba)
            10+ seen at the Senne ponds and common in the Hortobágyi Hungary

Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides)
            single seen at the Hortobágyi

Black-crowned Night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)
            6 birds seen, Latorica, Senne and Tokaj Hungary

Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus)
            5 at Backa in the Latorica valley    

Great Bittern (Botaurus stellaris)
            singles heard at Beša in the Latorica and at Hortobágyi Hungary         

Black Stork (Ciconia nigra)
            2 seen in the Latorica valley 1 near Botany on the ground and 1 in flight from Leses  

White Stork (Ciconia ciconia)

Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus)
            3 Ohat fish ponds Hungary  

Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia)
            4 Ohat fish ponds      Hungary

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)
            3 in the Senne ponds area  

White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons)
            Single at Senne ponds

Greylag Goose (Anser anser)
            14 in the Senne ponds area 11 at Ohat fish ponds Hungary

Gadwall (Anas strepera)
            Senne ponds

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Garganey (Anas querquedula)

Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)
            2 at Senne ponds and single at Beša in the Latorica valley

Common Pochard (Aythya ferina)

Ferruginous Duck (Aythya nyroca)
            3+ at Ohat fish ponds  Hungary

Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)

Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus)
            Total of 5 seen

Black Kite (Milvus migrans)
            single at Senne ponds

Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus)
            Single at Senne ponds

Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)

Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus)
            Only 1 seen, on the3 road at km105 Hungary       

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)
            2 seen, 1 Slovakia, 1 Hungary

Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)
            single at Paca          

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo)

Lesser Spotted Eagle (Aquila pomarina)

Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca)
            Single atkm105 on the 3 road Hungary and a single low over the road near Starysmokevc in the High Tatras

Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
            Single at Kezmarske Zlaby  and a pair displaying at Porác

Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)

Red-footed Falcon (Falco vespertinus)
            30+ at the colony on the Hortobágyi Hungary

Eurasian Hobby (Falco subbuteo)
            total of 5 seen

Quail (Coturnix coturnix)

Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)

Corncrake (Crex crex)
            1+ calling at Košice 

Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)
            3 at Godollo Hungary             

Coot (Fulica atra)

Common Crane (Grus grus)
            Total of 14 seen

Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)

Common Sandpiper (Actitis (hypoleucos) Hypoleucos)
            2 in Latorica river valley

Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus)

Little Gull (Larus minutus)
            total of 9 in the Latorica river valley

Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)
            1+Tiszaujvaros Hungary

Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybridus)

White-winged Black Tern (Chlidonias leucopterus)
            Common, especially Hortobágyi Hungary

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger)

Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus)
            Only 4 noted

Stock Dove (Columba oenas)

Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur)

Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)

Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)

Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo)
            single in the quarry at Tokaj Hungary         

Ural Owl (Strix uralensis)
            Pair at Bankov 1 seen very well     

Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium passerinum)
            single at Starysmokevc at the Hotel Horsky

Common Swift (Apus apus)

Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
            Single at Tokaj Hungary

European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster)
            21 at Leses    Slovakia, 5 at Tokaj Hungary

Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
            3+Godollo, Hungary 

Wryneck (Jynx torquilla)
            4 seen

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos minor)
            pair at nest, Bankov 

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)

Syrian Woodpecker (Dendrocopos syriacus)
            Total of 4 seen

Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus)
            single at Kezmarske Zlaby

Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius)
            single at Kezmarske Zlaby  

Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis)
            single at Košice       

Crested Lark (Galerida cristata)

Skylark (Alauda arvensis)

Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)

Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

House Martin (Delichon urbica)

Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis)
            2 at Kezmarske Zlaby          

White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)

Blue-headed Wagtail (Motacilla flava)

Ashy-headed Wagtail (Motacilla flava cinereocapilla)
            single at km105 on the old 3 road Hungary

Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)
            4 noted

Dipper (Cinclus cinclus)
            single at Kezmarske Zlaby

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)

Dunnock (Prunella modularis)
            2Kezmarske Zlaby

Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos)

Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)

Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)
            Single Godollo Hungary      

Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra)
            5 noted

Common Stonechat (Saxicola torquata)

Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)
            Single Hortobágyi Hungary

Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus)

Blackbird (Turdus merula)

Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris)
            Common, many fledged young

Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)

Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus)
            Single Starysmokevc           

River Warbler (Locustella fluviatilis)

Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)
            single in the Senne ponds area      

Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)
            single in the Senne ponds area      

Marsh Warbler (Acrocephalus palustris)
            5 noted

Great Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus)
            3 noted

Icterine Warbler (Hippolais icterina)

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin)
            Single Košice           

Common Whitethroat (Sylvia communis)

Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca)

Barred Warbler (Sylvia nisoria)
            Only 2, 1 Slovakia and 1Hungary

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)

Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

Wood Warbler (Phylloscopus sibilatrix)

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)
            2 at Bankov   

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)

Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca)
            single at Godollo       Hungary

Collared Flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis)
            5+ Bankov area

Red-breasted Flycatcher (Ficedula parva)
            Single heard at Stossadle

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus)
            Single white-headed race Godollo Hungary         

Willow Tit (Parus montanus)
            Single Kezmarske Zlaby

Coal Tit (Parus ater)

Crested Tit (Parus cristatus)
            4 High Tatras

Great Tit (Parus major)

Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus)

Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)
            3 noted

Eurasian Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris)
            6+ seen

Penduline Tit (Remiz pendulinus)
            3, 1 Senne, 2 Latorica

Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus)

Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio)

Lesser Grey Shrike (Lanius minor)
            11+ seen

Jay (Garrulus glandarius)

Magpie (Pica pica)

Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes)
            2 Starysmokevc up the hill from the Hotel Horsky

Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)

Rook (Corvus frugilegus)

Hooded Crow (Corvus (corone) cornix)

Raven (Corvus corax)

Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus)

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

Serin (Serinus serinus)

Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris)

Siskin (Carduelis spinus)
            4 at Starysmokevc   

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)

Linnet (Carduelis cannabina)
            2 at Godollo Hungary           

Common Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)
            3 seen

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)
            4 noted

Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes)

Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)
            3 noted

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)
            single at Košice       

Corn Bunting (Miliaria calandra)


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