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2006 Peregrine Nestbox News

Nestbox News is an account of activity at a nestbox placed atop 101 Hudson St., Jersey City, by biologists in the Endangered and Nongame Species Program. Division volunteer and Palisades Interstate Park naturalist Linn Pierson provides the entries to this chronicle of the nesting behavior and activity of peregrine falcons and their chicks.

June 21, 2006
It seems like only yesterday when we caught our first glimpse of four tiny fuzz balls as they huddled together for warmth and security in a nest box atop 101 Hudson Street in Jersey City. In reality, six weeks have passed since then, and we have watched in awe as the once helpless creatures opened their eyes for the first time, started to beg for food, began to hold themselves upright, then to shuffle, then walk, then hop and flap--all part of the transformation into the top-of-the-line predator nature ordained them to be. Sadly, we also watched helplessly as one of them died.

Now the time has come for the eyases to leave the relative safety of the nest box and learn to fend for themselves. A dangerous time in their young lives.

Each year as the time of fledging draws near, we think of a quote from the French poet Guillaume Appollinaire, which has always made us think of first flight. It goes like this:

"Come to the edge," he said. They said, "We are afraid."

"Come to the edge, he said." They came. He pushed them…and they flew.

Saturday morning we were up very early and watched the two young males who still had not fledged sitting on the ledge next to the nest box. One of the adults executed several fly-bys (the peregrine equivalent of a push) when suddenly one of the young falcons just lifted his wings and flew out of sight. The other youngster ran back and forth on the ledge but remained grounded.

We saw both young falcons together on the ledge that evening, and then nothing since. In the world of peregrine falcon observation, no news is usually good news.

Thus, we have had several days of empty camera views and nothing to report. Until today, anyway. Our one-woman fledge watch was in her office on Sunday when she saw on camera one of the young birds go into the nest box. She watched as he walked around the box, hopped back on the ledge, and then took off. Our watcher walked away from her computer and over to the office window that looks out at 101 Hudson, and saw probably the same bird land on a corner of the building. When she next looked, the bird was gone. Before leaving her office for the day she looked out the window one more time and saw two birds soaring high above 101. Good news!

Since the first male fledged last week, we have been seeing only one adult at a time, which is also a good sign, as one bird will usually stick close to a new fledgling. As the young birds become more and more proficient at flight, we will see less of them. They may still occasionally return to the roof of 101. Best times to possibly catch a glimpse are early morning and late evening.

June 15, 2006
For the most part, we have found web cams to be a wonderful innovation. An opportunity for a child to be able to watch a bird that was until now only a picture in a text book go about its yearly nesting rituals, unaware of its watchers. A chance to be right there when a tiny white ball of peregrine struggles out of its shell. A breathtaking look at first flight, as a young bird steps off a ledge into thin air for the first time.

Web cams have enabled all of us to share in the miracle of new life, up close and personal, and this is very wonderful and exciting. Most of the time.

Unfortunately, that intimacy can also bring us close to the other end of the spectrum, as the darkness that takes so many young falcons sometimes plays out on camera. That is what we have seen today at 101 Hudson Street. Details are still sketchy, but we will share what we know as of now.

It started just before dark last night, when we noticed that the young female seemed to be moving very oddly and sluggishly. Earlier in the day she had been scampering up and down the ramp with her male nest mates.

This morning Principal Zoologist Kathy Clark observed the young eyas seemingly unable to hold up her head, and pushing herself along the ground with her legs rather than standing up and walking.

The decisions that have to be made at this point are very hard and often heartbreaking ones, but after weighing all sides, Principal Zoologist Mick Valent left for Jersey City. If he could reach the female chick without driving the young males, just about ready to fledge, to move prematurely, he would get the female and bring her to Len Soucy at The Raptor Trust.

Unfortunately, by the time Mick reached Jersey City, the female eyas had died. At just a crack of the door, the three male eyases seemed nervous enough that the very difficult decision was made to leave the body where it was. In an ideal situation, a necropsy might have solved this puzzling death in a bird that had reached 4.5 weeks with no evident signs of disease, but that knowledge was not worth the risk to three other lives. As we said earlier, difficult decisions.

We know it must have been very hard for viewers who saw the final struggle of this beautiful young falcon that everyone had watched and enjoyed from the time she hatched. And we assure you that it was no easier for those who are part of the Peregrine Project.

Life and death are always very close in the world of the peregrine falcon. Today we have seen both, as shortly after the death of the female, the first of the young males fledged. So far, he is doing fine.

May they both fly high!

June 14, 2006
Just ten days after they were banded, our 101 Hudson falcons have flown the coop, so to speak. In reality, there is no flying just yet, but the young eyases have begun to explore the rooftop world outside the nestbox.

Those of us who have been watching have seen their increasing interest in the ramp. All of the young birds have been seen sitting on it and jumping in and out of the box. Today, all decided to make their moves. The camera has now been zoomed out to try and catch more of the action.

The roof at 101 Hudson Street is quite expansive, so viewers should not be alarmed if they do not see the birds very often. They may or may not return to the box at night, but over the next few days, which forecasters are predicting will be quite hot, the eyases will probably spend most of the daytime hours seeking shade and cool.

Within this next week the males will be starting to fledge. Their plumage is coming in quite nicely and we have witnessed increasing flapping, as the young birds strengthen their wings for their first flight.

June 8, 2006
This year's banding photo gallery has been posted.

June 6, 2006
Yesterday marked the Hudson Street eyases' first encounter with humans. Judging by the noise level, the young birds were not impressed. The banding team, led by Principal Zoologist Kathy Clark, was met virtually at the door to the roof by both adults, vehemently protesting our presence on their turf. Principal Zoologist Mick Valent placed the four chicks in a carrier and brought them inside to be banded, for their safety as well as ours! There they were fitted with the bands that they will carry for the rest of their lives, a bicolor black and green band on their left leg and an anodized federal band on their right.
For those viewers who have been guessing, this year's eyases are three males and one female. In addition to being banded, the young falcons received a general health check and a follow-up dose of the trichomoniasis medication served in a piece of chicken, which they eagerly accepted. The chicks appear to be well fed, in excellent health and trich-free.

We were also pleased to observe how well the new resident male has settled into his role as provider and protector. Male peregrines tend to create a lot of "sound and fury," mostly while perched above the goings on. This male, however, was most aggressive, even landing quite nearby and allowing a quick photograph before launching himself at us again.

Adult male peregrine
The male peregrine
We would like to express our appreciation to Mack-Cali for the excellent stewardship they have provided to their non-rent paying roof-top tenants. We would especially like to thank 101 Hudson's Property Manager Barbara Deen and her staff for their graciousness and help during the banding. Ms. Deen was a natural when it came to holding her first peregrine eyas!

Four chicks after banding Viewers may notice something leaning up against the nestbox. This is the wooden ramp that we used last year. If a chick leaves the box prematurely, it will be able to get back in via this route. Last year's chicks were soon running up and down the ramp! We expect that it will only be a few more days before they are ready to start exploring the world beyond the nestbox.

June 2, 2006
By next Monday, June 5, the 101 Hudson eyases will be three and a half weeks old, the prime age for banding. The team is scheduled to be at the building by 11, so sometime around 11:30 viewers will be able to see a lot of impressive flying on the part of the adult falcons as the chicks are rounded up. The actual banding is done inside, for the protection of both people and birds. We will try to provide a photo gallery of the event. We hope you will join us via webcam.

May 31, 2006
At a little over two weeks, the Hudson Street eyases are exhibiting many changes. Their down is growing thicker, and first feathers are starting to emerge.

They are able to stand and are moving around the nestbox seeking shade on these first really warm and sunny days. Their response to food deliveries is also growing. They now actively reach out for prey, and on several occasions we have observed a bird attempting to grab food on its own, or off the feathers of one of its siblings.

Some viewers have expressed concern that they are not seeing all the eyases. Especially when food is involved, one bird is frequently squeezed in between the others, totally out of sight. We assure everyone that all the eyases are present and accounted for! We should also mention that if the birds, both chicks and adults, are panting heavily, there is nothing wrong with them. Birds do not possess sweat glands, and panting and holding their wings out is the avian equivalent of perspiration.

The 101 Hudson Street birds were the subject of Fred Aun's outdoors column in the Sunday Star Ledger.

May 24, 2006
Today's update actually began on May 28, 2003, at Riverside Church, on the west side of Manhattan. Christopher Nadareski, Director of Wildlife Studies for New York City's DEP and a long-time falcon bander, placed bands on three peregrine eyases born on a nest ledge high on the Hudson River side of the cathedral. One of them, a male, received the band number *2/*6. (The asterisks denote numbers that are sideways.) Several weeks later the falcon chicks fledged, but *2/*6 was to surface one more time that summer, in Edgewater, New Jersey, almost directly across the Hudson from Riverside Church.

On the morning of July 4, 2003, Mel Ciociola of Edgewater received some unexpected company on the terrace of his high-rise building. He did not know the identity of his visitor, but was able to get photographs as well as the band number. He sent the photos to Principal Zoologist Mick Valent, who recognized the band combination as belonging to New York. Mick then contacted Chris Nadereski, who identified the bird. (For the full story and Mr. Ciociola's photographs, see the August 22, 2003, Nestbox News.)

The young falcon managed to find his way out of the high-rise complex and was never seen again after those early July days. That is, not until this past Saturday, when Principal Zoologist Kathy Clark paid a visit to 101 Hudson Street. Kathy arrived at the nestbox armed with a new medication helpful in preventing trichomoniasis, a disease which kills many peregrine chicks. Kathy reported that the new male was extremely aggressive in protecting his territory; so much so, that he landed on top of the nestbox while Kathy was medicating the eyases. Thus, she was able to read his band at point-blank range: *2/*6.

Chris Nadereski once again confirmed the identity of the bird, and Kathy passed all the information on to us early this evening. In his e-mail, Chris mentioned getting pictures from someone named Mel, which started us thinking. We had just started writing Nestbox news a few months earlier, and remembered those photographs well. So we went back to 2003, and confirmed that the new male at 101 Hudson Street is indeed the same male who fledged from Riverside Church, probably no more than six or seven miles up-river from his new Jersey City home.

We hope he will fly high over Jersey City for many years to come.

May 19, 2006
The 101 Hudson eyases are a week old today! There have been many changes even in this brief period of time.

The chicks have doubled their body mass and are able to sit up quite steadily. Their food begging response is growing stronger each day. Viewers may have observed that for the first few days the youngsters' eyes were mostly shut, and when open, were little slits. Now their eyes are open wide and are round in shape.

The young falcons are also showing the first signs of getting their second down. They are much better able to thermoregulate (control their bodily temperature). For the most part, these past few warm days the adults have only been constantly brooding at night. On a day of rain such as we are having today, however, the adults are positioning themselves with their backs to the inclement weather and are providing shelter to the eyases.

May 15, 2006
Sometime between nightfall Friday and early Saturday morning, the fourth egg at 101 Hudson turned into a peregrine falcon chick. The nestbox now contains four healthy and hungry little eyases.

At not quite two days old, today we could see some changes in the little nestlings. Several of them are already starting to hold their heads up more while gaping for food. If we could hear them, we would hear a very reedy and non-melodic "scree, scree-a" sound that will increase both in volume and intensity as the weeks go by and the chicks grow larger and hungrier.

Those who have watched the nestbox this weekend have been able to observe quite a few feedings. The female, a very experienced bird, is flawless. Watch how carefully she stuffs one little crop and then another until all the empty crops are full, and the eyases become both top-heavy enough to fall over and very very sleepy.

The male's technique still needs a little practice. We watched early this morning as he flew into the nestbox and changed places with the female. He had brought what looked to be some cached prey (peregrines will frequently stash "leftovers" to consume at a later date). He stood in front of the nestlings holding this juicy morsel in his beak and pushing it at the young birds, who at this point are not yet capable of reaching out and grabbing such a treat. He would then walk to the other side of the nestbox, drop his cache, and stare at the young birds, and then he would start the process all over again. After the third unsuccessful attempt, he finally seemed to catch on, and started tearing off little pieces and feeding them to the chicks. The next time we watched him feeding, he showed a lot of improvement.

For birds, as well as humans, it is all about the learning process.

May 12, 2006 - UPDATE!
We just had an opportunity to see the hatchlings being fed and as we watched, we thought we saw a third head popping up way behind the other two. All but convinced we were imagining this, suddenly little bodies shifted and there was proof--egg number three has now turned into an eyas!

May 12, 2006
We have a hatch at 101 Hudson Street! Sometime between dusk last night and early this morning, two eyases pipped free from their shells and are nestled under their mom for protection and warmth. If the other two eggs are going to hatch, it will be soon, probably today.

We will not see very much of the new arrivals for the first few days, especially if the weather is cool and rainy. With only a first coat of down for protection, newborn hatchlings are not able to regulate their own body temperature. One of the adults will be brooding them at all times, and the best chance of catching a glimpse will occur when the adults change places on the nest, or when feeding occurs.

May 2, 2006
Early May in northern New Jersey: dogwood and shadbush are in bloom, wild pinks cascade off the Palisades, and the first warblers return from their long winter's journey. Day is now longer than night and mornings are resonant with flowers and bird song. Most of all, to those of us who watch and wait, another year's peregrine chicks will soon burst from their shells.

With less than a week left before hatching at 101 Hudson Street, our viewers may be wondering what happens next.

Peregrine chicks possess something called an egg tooth, a horny protuberance on their beaks which helps them break free from their shells. (We find it interesting that the one mammal which hatches from an egg, the duck-billed platypus, also has an egg tooth.) The young birds also can be heard peeping as they near their entry to the world, sometimes as much as 72 hours prior to hatching.

The first part of hatching, known as interior pipping, begins as the hatchling makes a pip (or hole) in the interior air sac and draws its first breath. This takes a long time, and the hatching bird spends much time resting. In the next phase of hatching, exterior pipping, the chick starts to turn counterclockwise in its shell as it makes a series of pips around the shell's circumference, pushing with the egg tooth. The youngster continues to turn, pip, vocalize, and rest, until finally popping free, wet and totally exhausted.

Peregrines tend to be synchronous hatchers, which means that the eggs hatch at roughly the same time, giving the entire brood an equal start in life.

Some signs to watch for that indicate hatching is underway include the adults seeming a little restless while brooding and looking down under themselves. Generally, once the chicks have hatched, the adults will seem to be sitting a little higher on the nest.

It is an exciting time--we hope you will be watching with us.

April 26, 2006
Our viewers may have noticed that we have returned to the original camera feed. Yesterday, Principal Zoologist Mick Valent returned to Jersey City, armed with some suggestions from the camera's manufacturer for clearing up the fogging problem in the interior nest cam.

Mick got to the roof to find a surprise waiting for him. As soon as he opened the door the male went into full attack mode, diving at Mick and cacking mightily. The female, while she joined in the vocalizing, refused to leave the eggs and hunkered down tightly in the scrape.

A few steps in the direction of the nestbox did nothing to alter this standoff, and Mick made the wise decision that with hatching due in less than two weeks, it would be better to leave the area rather than taking a chance on a cracked egg.

We are back to the original camera view, zoomed in tight, and should have a good view of hatching chicks.

As one of our wiser viewers put it, it is better to have camera problems than falcon problems. The new pair seems to have bonded well, with the male taking a very active part in hunting and nest defense. The same viewer last week saw him on a ledge facing her building holding on to a recently caught pigeon. With the possibility of four chicks, food procurement will be a most important activity over the next few months.

April 20, 2006
Yesterday Principal Zoologist Mick Valent visited 101 Hudson Street and changed the camera feed to the new camera mounted in the nest box. Anyone watching at the time would have seen him being soundly attacked by the adult birds as he made an adjustment to the camera position. When Mick left Jersey City, we had a great picture of the eggs from inside the box.

Unfortunately, there seems to be some condensation on the lens which did not manifest itself immediately. Since the camera has a tiny heater designed to obviate such a problem, our hope is that it will soon clear. The picture is in fact a little better than it was last evening. If it continues to be a problem, someone will again visit Jersey City early next week.

We apologize for the inconvenience.

April 19, 2006
The time of quiet has come to 101 Hudson Street. The adult peregrines have forged bonds and traced the ancient courtship dance across the skies high above the Jersey City financial district. Eggs have formed, eggs have been laid, in a carefully prepared if somewhat disputed scrape. Now all that is left is the time of waiting for those eggs to hatch, revealing tiny chicks within.

Those who have been watching have seen the slow cadence of the days. Most of the time the female is sitting tightly on the nest, leaving only to eat, preen and stretch her wings. Her new mate has proven himself an able partner, protecting their territory, keeping the female supplied with prey, and taking her place on the eggs when she leaves.

Both birds, when they take over nest duties, carefully turn the eggs. This ensures even development of the embryos within. Their movements are performed gingerly, so the eggs are not harmed. All is well.

The scrape has moved closer and closer to the front of the box these past two weeks, making it difficult to see the eggs. Hopefully, all that will change this afternoon. Principal zoologist Mick Valent plans to visit 101 Hudson and change the feed over to the new camera, the one mounted in the nest box. Hopefully, this will give us a much better view. Stay tuned, it will not be long now.

April 10, 2006
Good news from 101 Hudson Street! As of yesterday, the new nestbox contains four eggs, which are being carefully guarded by both adults! For the past four years, the female at 101 has laid four eggs, so this is probably a full clutch, but five is not impossible. A pair of peregrines in Rochester, NY, have raised five eyases the past two years, and this year have a clutch of six eggs, which is extremely rare.

Success in raising a large brood has much to do with prey availability, and most cities are veritable pigeon buffets. The down side of this bounty is that pigeons may be a source of trichmoniasis, a disease that peregrines can contract from eating infected pigeons (for a more detailed description of trich, check the Nestbox News entry for June 14, 2004). Trich that is not caught early and treated results in the death of many young eyases.

We have been amazed to see that the pair, which initially could not agree on where to place the scrape, or nest depression, have compromised on a scrape in the middle of the box, making the eggs really easy for viewers to see.

The female will assume most of the incubation duties while the male keeps her supplied with food offerings. When he delivers food he also assumes brooding duties so the female can leave the nest to eat, preen, and stretch her wings. Yesterday, one of our most avid (and accurate) viewers was able to witness this "changing of the guard," and saw both birds in the nest box. The male arrived amidst much bowing and ee-chupping, and then the birds switched places. Such rituals are all part of the ongoing affirmation of pair bonds.

Viewers fortunate enough to see the adults standing in the nest should pay close attention to the birds' posture when near the eggs. They ball up their talons so that nothing sharp touches the egg. Incredible gentleness from a fierce predator!

April 5, 2006
The new nestbox at 101 Hudson Street now holds two eggs! There is generally about 48 hours between eggs, so viewers should watch closely on Thursday to see if there will be a third egg. Peregrine falcons are synchronous hatchers, meaning that in most cases all the eggs hatch at roughly the same time, so there is no major size difference between nestlings. In order for this to happen, serious brooding does not start until the penultimate, or next to last, egg is laid. If the weather is cool, as it has been the past few days, the female will brood the eggs a little to keep them from getting too cold.

Incubation in peregrine falcons takes about 32 days, which should give us a hatch date early in May.

We are experiencing some video difficulties at this time, but the still camera is operative. We are expecting the video to be up and the new camera online sometime this week. We thank our viewers for their patience.

March 27, 2006
In the cold stillness of winter we sometimes wonder if spring will ever come, while all the time it is ineluctably creeping up on us. Feeder birds move steadily toward the incandescent plumage of courtship season, length of day begins to surpass that of night, and mornings grow downright noisy with song. With the warm weather anticipated for this coming week, those tiniest of frogs, the spring peepers, should be running a herpetile counterpoint to the birdsong of morning. Spring is here, even when temperatures would seem to indicate otherwise.

At peregrine eyries all over New Jersey, this is the time for nesting season to begin in earnest. At least one peregrine nest in south Jersey already has one egg, and the newly paired Hudson Street birds should soon have eggs of their own.

The birds have been strengthening their pair bonds, although they still seem to have the occasional difference. Viewers who have been watching may have noticed that two scrapes (the depression in the gravel in which eggs are laid) have blossomed. The female has been working on one on the left side of the box as we face it, and the male seems to have a distinct preference for the right side. Both scrapes are quite deep, and all the displaced gravel has ended up in the middle, prompting us to christen it "the great wall of 101." Our conjecture is that since the female is both dominant and the one laying the eggs, the scrape on the left will be the one chosen.

Although the birds are still spending a lot of time on the lower roof, we are seeing more visits to the nestbox. Last night we happened to check the camera at about 9:30, and saw one of the falcons sitting on top of the box. The bird was still there at 11:30.

Hopefully, the week will bring news of an egg and also that the camera inside the box has been activated, so we will have an excellent view.

March 15, 2006
While this week's weather may belie it, spring is right around the corner. Monday, March 20, at 6:26 in the evening marks the arrival of the vernal equinox, the time when day and night become of equal length. This move toward the light also marks the beginning of nesting season for the peregrine falcons of New Jersey.

We welcome our viewers to a seventh season of peregrines at 101 Hudson Street in Jersey City!

We apologize for our later-than-normal start, but we hope that the vastly-improved picture quality has been worth the time it took to get everything hooked up. Hopefully within the next few days the second camera, which will bring us right into the nestbox, will also be up and running.

We again thank all of you who contributed to this amazing upgrade of our equipment and hope it brings you many hours of pleasure. Special thanks also to Principal Zoologist Mick Valent who withstood some pretty fierce attacks by the 101 female to install the camera in the new nestbox on Monday.

And now we bring the best news possible. All of you who were here last season (and if you are new to our site, last year's Nestbox News is available on this website) are aware that the male was permanently injured at the beginning of the season and that the female raised three young on her own. A male was seen with her occasionally, but it was not yet a firm bonding.

We have been somewhat apprehensive at the fact that when Mick visited the roof he was attacked only by the female. For those of us who watched over the winter, the female was the only bird seen. We have had recent reports from the building engineers, who have developed good peregrine identification skills over the past six years, and also from several observers on the ground, of two birds flying together.

We have also noticed that the female has started working on a scrape (the depression in the gravel where eggs are laid) and that on several occasions she seemed to be reacting in a non-hostile manner to something off camera. Our fingers have been firmly crossed, but the uncertainty has been unsettling.

At 11:43 this morning, as we were writing this update while simultaneously watching the camera, nesting season 2006 became a reality. The female landed on the ledge to the right of the nestbox and was immediately followed by a male. Both entered the nestbox, doing a ledge ceremony known as "head bow low," which consists of the male doing an exaggerated bow, bill pointing toward the ground. The male then went to the rear of the box, and made some scraping motions. If we had sound, we would have heard a lot of creaking and wailing accompanying this display.

We should see more and more of this sort of behavior as egg-laying time (usually by the beginning of April) draws closer. Stay tuned; it appears that nesting season at 101 is finally underway!

January 17, 2006
It is said that change is inevitable and without it we would cease to grow. While this may in fact be true, we have always found change to be somewhat bittersweet.

With this in mind, we announce that Linda Tesauro has resigned from her position as Executive Director of the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWF) to take a well-deserved, relaxing sabbatical.

As most of our viewers are aware, New Jersey's Endangered & Nongame Species Program (ENSP) receives no dedicated state funding and depends upon private donations from New Jersey citizens who purchase the Conserve Wildlife license plate and "Check-Off for Wildlife" on the state tax form.

The Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey was founded in 1998 to help provide financial assistance, public education and community outreach for ENSP. Linda Tesauro, who was responsible for developing the concept of the organization and helping to establish it, became its first executive director.

Linda was a perfect fit for the position. She started out as an English teacher, and her ease with school children and her enjoyment of them was obvious to all who have seen her at CWF events where children were involved. Linda came to the Conserve Wildlife Foundation from New Jersey Network, where she was responsible for corporate underwriting. With her contacts and her considerable charm, she was able to enlist many corporations in the fight to save New Jersey's wildlife. Not content to stop there, she and her equally devoted staff members have attracted thousands of private donors, both large and small, as well as volunteers, an amazing amalgam of people who care enough to help protect our wildlife species.

Those of us who have worked with Linda over these past years and who have had the privilege of knowing her personally will miss her quick intelligence, warmth, joy and energy. She has done much for the wildlife of New Jersey and for all those whose lives she has touched.

The Conserve Wildlife Foundation will remain in capable hands, however. At this time we would like to welcome Margaret O'Gorman as the new Executive Director of CWF. Margaret was formerly Director of Development at New Jersey Future, and prior to that, Development Director for the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. We wish her many happy years at Conserve Wildlife.

And as always, we end with thanks to all of you for all your support, both financial and encouragement-wise. Your help is and was and always will be vital to us!

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