Category Archives: Festivals

Gullfest 2015. Joy and envy

Gullfest 2015 is happening as I write

I have a tad of Gullfest envy as we can’t be there. So bear with and see why 🙂

Gullfest 2015 poster A2 - Vardø aerial biotope

Lars J. is in de building




BrĂźnnich’s will be flashin’Brunnichs (1 of 1)


Gyrs will be aboot like they was when Darren Woodhead was drawin’ back in ’13gyr drawings (1 of 1) gyr drawings 2 (1 of 1) gyr drawings 3 (1 of 1)


and Lars can draw Gyr’s too



and he did some Steller’s Eider using his big momma scope

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 13.35.19

I think he’s not bad- I’d give him a passScreen Shot 2015-03-13 at 15.29.07


 and he’s tellin’ them about “drawing what he sees not what he knows”

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 13.23.50Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 13.24.04


Then the ol’ Sami tent going up for the cool views and amazing food and atmospheric fire pits

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and that NORRRRFulk lad James McCallum is back in his fave zone doing what he doose bestScreen Shot 2015-03-13 at 15.29.55Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 15.30.53


and Jonnie Fisk – 2 years running? Needs to go find that flippin v- nigrum Eider so he can actually tick it! He also does very cool art:

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 15.30.04


and the Biotope hides- including brand spanking new ones are inspiring a generationScreen Shot 2015-03-13 at 15.30.33B_-hqLhUIAERfZi



and one of my favourites  – there is community transformation a going on…

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 13.24.53


So you see Mrs G and me should be there. We will be back because the work of Tormod and Elin and the Biotope team is a friendship and a partnership that has been a huge boon to us.

All power to their hands and their plans…

mg arctic (1 of 1)my beautiful wife (1 of 1)


and a bit more art from Lars and couple of photos from me (from auk island viewable from the Sami tent)

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 15.31.08 shag 2 (1 of 1)

The Shags are always very cool and the hyperborea Guillemots- ‘ave em!

Guillemot hyperborea (1 of 1)


argentatus Herring Gull wing tips and travels

Remarkable Movements

Martin Garner

It’s what they do, where they go, how far they travel,  the ‘gull narrative’ that adds to the wonder. While Gullfest 2015 is cooking in Vardø and folk visit the mighty Hornøya  Island. Here’s one of those stories.


JX347:  Hornøya to South Yorkshire and back again and back again

JX347 having been rung on Hornøya has wintered in South Yorkshire- two years running! As a first winter bird and as a second winter bird- and been well photographed. The variety in young northern argentatus Herring Gull is quiet considerable. This one is not an easy ‘pick-out’ on plumage. And what route did it take to reach the UK? Over the arctic top like this Great Black-backed Gull or through the Baltic? Both are possibilities. Have  look:

First Winter plumage 

(poached from excellent  Barnsley Bird Blog – photo by Steve Denny)


Second Winter plumage

In Sheffield last month- (photo by Andy Deighton)

shefield 2


Thanks to Andy Deighton and Morton Helberg for following:

CR-Code Black ring with white code: JX347 LBM;RBNW(JX347)
Ringing Centre Stavanger Museum (Norway) Ring number 4193850
Species Herring Gull  Larus argentatus
Sex Unknown Age Pullus

Date Place Coordinates Observers Days/km/°
29.06 2013 Hornoya, Vardo, Finnmark, Norway 70°23’16″N 031°09’21″E Lyng, Torben
26.02 2014 Anglers Country Park, Wintersett, West Yorks, Great Britain 53°38’19″N 001°25’56″W Leeman, Brian 242/2464/237
02.03 2014 Wintersett Reservoir , West Yorks, Great Britain 53°37’42″N 001°25’57″W Denny, Steven 246/2465/237
02.03 2014 Wintersett Reservoirs, Great Britain, Great Britain 58°38’00″N 001°26’00″W Denny, Steven 246/1994/245
11.02 2015 Warren Street, Sheffield, South Yorks, Great Britain 53°23’21″N 001°26’41″W Deighton, Andy 592/2489/236

 to compare- a similar 1st winter was photographed at Vardø April 2012:

argy first winter  vardo (1 of 1)

Adult wing tips

Since the early 1980’s these have fascinated me (especially when the local county refused to accept the records!). The most interesting have usually been the ones with reduced black and more white in the wing tips. Some sporting the ‘thayer’ pattern on the outermost primary P10 and even on the penultimate long primary p9. What’s the thayeri pattern? As on an adult Thayer’s Gull, the pale/ white wedge on the inner primary runs right through to th white ‘mirrors’ near the tip and NO black cuts across the feather- as on the typical pattern of most dark winged Large Gulls.

Here is the thayeri pattern from  Banks from 1917- “The Status of Larus thayeri. Thayer’s Gull”

The pattern on the right show the uninterrupted white right through to the wing tip.


Thayeri wing tip Banks


So here’s some argentatus  with the thayeri pattern

from Gullfest 2013 at Vardø

ad argy white (1 of 1) argentataus adddb (1 of 1) argentataus adddbm (1 of 1) argentatus 1 (1 of 1) argentatus 45a (1 of 1)argentatus adult wing 13 (1 of 1)argentatus adult wing 4 (1 of 1)THAYERI ARGY3 (1 of 1)THAYERI ARGY4 (1 of 1)

not visible this just has thayeri pattern on p9argy wing not used

This one has nice long tongue but no thayeri

THAYERI ARGY6 (1 of 1)

Darker-winged adults

we also found darker winger birds- some with 6 black marked primaries which were intriguing. one of these had been rung further south in the Baltic.

argentatus adult wing 1 (1 of 1) argentatus adult wing 2 (1 of 1) argentatus adult wing 10 (1 of 1) argentatus adult wing 11 (1 of 1)


Ringed in Poland 

This next bird was trapped at Vardø already sported ring from Poland. Pink-legged and dark backed it was the darkest winged bird we trapped. 6 black marked primaries including dark band across p5.

argentatus adult wing 12 (1 of 1)

Gdansk ring b (1 of 1) Gdansk ring c (1 of 1)


another darker winged bird

back to those beautiful pale wing tip patternsargentatus c (1 of 1) argentatus extreme a (1 of 1) argy 3 (1 of 1)

How cold? Waiting to explore gulls and ducks…blizz (1 of 1)


Colourful ducks

with rubbery looking fish lips and amazing plumage tones- in both males and femalesstelers onee (1 of 1) fem steller's e (1 of 1)

and King DucksKing eiders (1 of 1)

and pretty smaller gulls

whose wing tip patterns we are exploring…

Kittiwake ne (1 of 1)

Champions of the Flyway 2015

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Martin Garner

I was pretty gutted not to be able to lead the Birding Frontiers Team out last year for the inaugural ‘Champions of the Flyway’. We were proud to be one of the first supporting teams to register having been much inspired by the vision and passion of Jonathan Merav and Dan Alon. Unfortunately falling ill meant that despite radically misplaced optimism on my part I was never going to get there. Roger Riddington, Paul French and Adam Hutt did superbly well to place so high (and without me- how so! 😉 ) in last years race.


Our 2014 BF Team of Paul, Adam and Roger

Our 2014 BF Team of Paul, Adam and Roger

I am not fit enough to race a team this year so it did not seem appropriate to tender one.

BBRC Vagrants

I am delighted  therefore that Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 04.14.24Paul French (Frenchie) has formed a new BBRC team with some special friends, Micky Maher and Richard Schofield. I was invited but I won’t be able to stay awake as long as Scofers (er hmm), so I’ll just back them instead!

Please do check out the this excellent video by Yuval Dax of last years’ race. It really draws you in! Lots of familiar face and some excellent leg pulling, and of course… superb birds and birding.

For lots more info on this years 2015 Champions of the Flyway go >>>HERE<<<

An Apology

from Martin Garner

To the Belgium Birders and especially to Gerald Driessens. Having been unable to speak their winter meeting last year in Feb 2014, I had tried to make it my top priority to try and be there this winter. Their meeting was scheduled for later on this month. Unfortunately my health, in my keen optimism is not what I hoped and new round of tests and treatments (am presently in hospital) have severely curtailed activities. I have similarly had to decline a lovely offer to speak in Finland to Bongariliitto via Markku Santamaa.

I am particulate frustrated in letting Gerald and the Belgium guys down for the second time. I was late in alerting them and I am sorry.

I hope for success in all their endeavours. Sharon and I are still hoping to try and travel to Arctic Norway in March if all the duff stuff gets sorted.

Every success Gerald and co. in all your endeavours.

Happier Days. Gerald D. (left) me, Corey and Nils on early morning foray to see White-backed Woodpecker in Hungary.

Happier Days. Gerald D. (left) me, Corey and Nils on early morning foray to see White-backed Woodpecker in Hungary.

White-backed Woodpecker- the very bird deserving of a big X!

White-backed Woodpecker- the very bird deserving of a big X!


A letter from Essex on the Spurn Migration Festival


 6-8 September 2013

Louise and John Sykes came up from Essex last September to Britain’s first Migration Festival at Spurn. They  wrote up their experience of the festival in ‘Essex Birding’, the journal of the Essex Birdwatching Society. Get a real feel for the whole event! Here’s what they had to say (with grateful thanks).

To BOOK TICKETS for the Migration Festival this September:

Please call 01904 659570 or email Yorkshire Wildlife Trust

The Spurn Migration Festival runs from the 5th – 7th September 2014 and the prices are as follows: £14 for a day ticket, £21 for the weekend ticket and £8 for the evening lecture with delicious hog roast.


Louise and John Sykes


Spurn Migration Festival oneThe first event of its kind in Britain, Spurn (East Yorkshire) hosted a national Migration Festival. Bird migration is one of the great wonders of the natural world and the Spurn Peninsula is arguably the best place in Britain to witness this spectacle.

The event was hosted by Spurn Bird Observatory and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT) in partnership with Birding Frontiers and Westmere Farm.


We left Chelmsford around 8.30am Essex Birding 300 on Friday 6 September, and arrived at Westmere Farm at 1.30pm. Driving time was 4.3/4hrs. We were greeted at registration by Rob Adams and Martin Garner, then signed up for a selection of activities. When we booked three nights B&B at Westmere Farm, we did not realise that this would be the hub of activities, so it was so convenient for making the start of walks and attending the lecture programme.


Lying 32 miles south-east of Hull (on a road to nowhere), in 1946 Spurn was the site of the first bird observatory to be established on mainland Britain and it remains an excellent place to observe migrants and rarities. The observatory occupies buildings near the YWT information centre and at the Point. It is run by the committee of the Spurn Bird Observatory Trust, a registered charity. The observatory buildings are rented from the YWT, who are the owners of Spurn National Nature Reserve. The observatory records the wildlife of the peninsula and conducts bird migration studies, which involves the catching and ringing of birds by people specially trained and licensed to do such work.


Armed with our festival map we set out mid afternoon to explore the Canal Zone. It was overcast but dry, the tide low. Dunlins, Redshanks and Turnstone were feeding on the mudbanks of the Humber Estuary and Swallows were flying everywhere. From the Canal Scrape Hide we watched 3 Snipe feeding, while Sedge Warblers, Goldfinch, Meadow Pipits and Reed Buntings were flitting around the hedges. A report of a Rosefinch flying nearby came over on someone’s radio. A Yellow Wagtail appeared in front of the hide. Another radio report announced a sighting of a Pied Wagtail, 38 Manx Shearwater and a possible Long Tailed Skua. We moved to the Sea Watching Hide and watched 2 Arctic Skua, Gannets and a steady flow of Fulmar. Volunteers counted 82 Manx Shearwater and called a Sooty Shearwater. A winter plumage Guillemot bobbed up and down on the waves, and a raft of Fulmars was called (195 Fulmars were counted in 45mins). It was good to see a group of young, enthusiastic birders at this hide. An announcement came from the Warden Paul Collins that a Rosefinch had been caught and was being rung. Fifteen minutes later we had a brief but good view of the Rosefinch in Paul’s hand before it was released. As we were walking back to Westmere Farm, we saw a birdwatcher taking photos at Southfield Farm. Chris (Opticron Rep) pointed out a very showy Red-backed Shrike sitting on the wire fence, 25 feet away.

rosefinch MP


Back at the farm ‘café’ we relaxed with coffee, talking to Andy Gibson, YWT, about habitat management and working with farmers. Tea and coffee were courtesy of the farm that evening. We also enjoyed homemade butternut squash soup. There was also a great selection of homemade cakes.

The festival itself began with an illustrated talk on ‘Visible Bird Migration’ by pioneer Keith Clarkson. Back in the 1970’s Keith began recording the migration of Meadow Pipits over Redmires Reservoir, South Yorkshire. This led to observing other species migrating, to developing identification and counting skills, to developing a model for observation, including call and patterns of group flight. Keith even used a hot air balloon for a week one September to see if this helped with recording. One statistic quoted was amazing, nearly 100,000 wood pigeons were counted moving over Gwent in one morning. This informative but very humerous talk was a great start to the festival.

Spurn Migration Festival 2013


Saturday morning breakfast was at 6am, and by 6.30 we were ready to our first migrant walk to the Numpties Watchpoint. This was led by Mike Pilsworth, currently warden at RSPB Blacktoft Sands. Roe Deer were seen in the fields and 4 Gannets were feeding near the shore. Guillemots, Curlew and Black Headed Gulls were flying. We were told that the Crown and Anchor pub car park was a good place to find resting warblers, especially at high tide. As we walked along the Canal Zone, we saw Fulmar, Redshank, a Marsh Harrier, Dunlin, Turnstone, a flock of Wigeon and a Sandwich Tern. Flocks of Curlew flew up and down the Humber Estuary. Mike pointed out that during his time at Spurn, he had recorded rare species in the bushes along the Canal Zone. Four Little Egret and lots of Meadow Pipits were seen. A small group of Roe Deer were jumping in the undergrowth by the Estuary, a flock of Hebredian black sheep were grazing along with Long Horned cattle. Swallows were whizzing about everywhere. A Great Skua was called on the radio. Two Snipe flew onto the Canal Scrape. The wind was far too strong for many warblers, but we noted a Sand Martin, a Yellow Wagtail and a Knot flying among a flock of Redshank, a Sedge Warbler, 4 Common Tern, a flock of Goldfinch and a Herring Gull.  7 Whimbrel were seen and the Sea Watch reported over 300 Manx Shearwater and 4 Sooty Shearwater.

Sooty Shearwater 4.9.11 M Standley


By 9am the cloud had given way to sunshine. We were walkingwryneckstandley back to Westmere Farm , when we heard that a Rosefinch was showing in Church Field. We waited for it to pop out of the bushes and were rewarded with two of them. Back at the farm we were enjoying bacon rolls and coffee, when a call came over the radio that a Wryneck had been seen at the Canal and another by the listening dish. A volunteer offered us a lift to the Canal Scrape, so with roll and coffee we jumped into his car. We lined up with about 50 other birders for an hour but the Wryneck did not show again. That morning a Corncrake was flushed on Sammy’s Point.


We walked to the Warren to ask for a lift to the lighthouse. The YWT female volunteer suggested that we look at the radar station while she arranged transport. The radar equipment was recording bird movement 24hrs a day, and although migration was not visible, flocks were showing on the monitor.

We climbed to the top of the lighthouse for amazing views of the Spurn and Humber Estuary. We also noticed the bat detection equipment. The standard of art in the exhibition was excellent, and we talked to Ray Scally about his work which is regularly commissioned for bird reports and publications. He also showed us 2 juvenile Dunlin that had been recently killed by flying into the telephone wires.

After walking on to the RNLI Station, we had a lift back to Westmere Farm with Ray. Lunch was homemade tomato and lentil soup, rolls and cake.

There were lots of other activities on offer during the day, when bird activity was quiet.

Plant and insect walks

Beachcombing for fossilsPebble Prominent Spurn

Digi-scoping and photography workshops

Guided history walks

Bird ringing demonstrations

Lunch time talks.


It was a bright sunny day and there were lots of migrants but the birds were travelling very high in the sky so could not be seen. Cloud cover and a shower were needed to bring everything to a lower level.

At 4pm we joined the migrant walk to Sammy’s Point, led by Terry, supported by Graham. One Pintail and a flock of Wigeon flew down the estuary. Shelduck, Turnstone, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit and Oystercatcher were feeding on the mudflats. As we cut through the fields, a kestrel flew out of a large bush. Graham walked through the middle of the fields hoping to flush out the Corncrake that had been seen earlier but no luck here. On our return journey we picked up a Mediterranean Gull, Wheatear, Reed and Sedge Warblers, and Reed Bunting.

juv Sedge W 7 and 8 august 09 017

At 6.30pm as we queued for the hog roast, we looked at the sightings board. It included these other sightings, 3 Black Tern, Corncrake, Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart, Water Rail and Little Stint.


The evening talk was given by Martin Garner, who has been birding since he was 11. He recently started Birding Frontiers as a place to share what he was learning and hoping to inspire others to do the same.

Martin wanted us to think of the moment we were inspired by a wildlife experience, which led to a love of the wild. Then he spoke about some of his recent inspiring journeys; March migration in Israel in the Great Rift Valley; Arctic Norway where he saw 10,000 King Eider and Lanzarote for pelagic trips. The photographs were amazing. Martin concluded by asking us to be creative and use divergent thinking when bird watching. As an example, a recently a new species was discovered, Pincoya Storm Petrel, because a birder noticed something different about this bird.

Then we produced a Top Ten list of birds of the day. Spurn has recorded 382 species in total.

As the evening finished a Common Pipistrelle Bat flew around the barn. Unfortunately we were too tired to join the bat walk.


Up early on Sunday morning and we were in position at the Narrows by 7am. Andy Roadhouse and Dale Middleton were our guides for the morning. Although the weather was too good to see lots of migrating birds, you could still get a feel for migration. Whimbrel, Redshank, Turnstone and 3 Oystercatchers, flying fast and low, were soon noted. Andy was counting Meadow Pipits as part of the research being undertaken by Dr Clive McKay. Black Tern, Sanderling and Grey Plover were added to the list. Then a Peregrine flushed 2000+ knot from the beach. They twisted and turned in a tight formation before settling down again.


Andy told us about Trektellen, originally set up in the Netherlands, which records migration/sea watching and ringing counts in Europe. We also learnt about the pilots who guide the large tankers into the Humber Estuary and the RNLI station at Spurn Point (one of the few sites where the crew are employed).

Also we regularly saw police in 4×4’s monitoring the Spurn and surrounding areas. This was part of the surveillance of energy installations to prevent terrorist attacks.

Bird Species started to mount, Reed Bunting, 2 Cormorant, 7 Little Egret, 2 Wheatear, Common Tern, 40 Tree Sparrows, Whitethroat and 7 Bar-tailed Godwits. This was followed by 2 migrating rooks, 1 Little Plover flying in a flock of Ringed Plover, Redshank, 2 Teal and a Gadwall flying together and 30 Grey Plover. Four seals bobbed around in the sea.

Bacon Rolls arrived at 10am, courtesy of Westmere Farm. We sat looking out to sea, enjoying the sun shimmering over the water, watching and listening to migrating birds flying past, noting the tankers moored offshore, eating bacon rolls. It was quite magical!

We were soon adding to our list, White Wagtail, Common Buzzard, Sandwich Tern, 2 Yellow Wagtail and 2 Arctic Skua. Then suddenly 4000 Knot were up and flying in the estuary, before landing on the mudflats.



At 11am we moved on to Spurn Point with Andy and Dale, and were joined by 5 other people. The scrub area was very quiet, only spotting 2 Yellow Wagtail, a young Linnet and a Whinchat. 2 Whitethroat were in its ringing enclosure. We also heard a Willow Warbler.


Back at the farm we enjoyed homemade vegetable broth. We caught the end of the talk by Dr Danae Sheehan. She leads the RSPB Africa Eurasia Migratory Landbird Recovery Programme. The RSPB are training Africans to count and ring species, encouraging them to help protect endangered birds, such as the Turtle Dove. I mentioned that Ebws has been active in raising money for Turtle Dove conservation, in order to create suitable habitat in Essex.

The next talk was given by Dr Clive McKay about ‘Spurn’s mipits and wagtails’. He is researching Icelandic mipits that pass over Spurn.

As we were leaving the barn, a Hummingbird Hawk Moth flew into the foyer area.


At 3pm we were off again, for a migrant walk of an area known as the Triangle. Nathan led this walk, supported by John.  As we sat in the Canal Scrape Hide, a Water Rail walked between the reeds. Swallows were still flying into the hide to feed their young. A Swan family emerged from the scrubs in the Canal Zone and we watched a Kestrel being harassed by Swallows. As we walked on Nathan pointed out the best places to see birds, the sheltered spots where they rest on their travels. We noted Whitethroat, Golden Plover, Dunlin, and Snipe on Borrow Pond at the back of the Bluebell CafÊ and Visitors Centre.


After this walk we looked in at the Sea Watching Hide, where a Red-throated Diver and 7 Teal had been listed. We had dinner at the Crown and Anchor Pub, more excellent homemade food. As the festival had closed soon after 4pm we had a quiet evening reflecting on what we had seen and learnt over the weekend.


On Monday we had an early morning walk before breakfast. Sea watching was very quiet as the sea was flat and calm. Swallows were busy at the Canal Scrape Hide, a family of Mute Swans and 6 Little Egrets were feeding on the scrape. As we walked back along the Canal Zone a Peregrine swooped down and took a Swallow chick. A Sedge Warbler perched on top of a bush.

After breakfast we walked an area called Kilnsea Wetlands. From the hide we saw Cormorants, Grey Heron, Oystercatcher, Greylag Geese, Curlew and Redshank. A new species for the weekend a Ruff was feeding among the Dunlin and Golden Plovers. A Common Gull rested in the grass. Down by Beacon Ponds a Kestrel was seen hunting and 2 Grey Heron flew into the field.


At midday we began the drive home, having had a wonderful weekend. The festival had been very well organised and an army of volunteers were always willing to help and advise. We have provisionally booked our accommodation for next year.


Louise and John Sykes

 BOOK Your TICKETS for the Migration Festival this September:

Please call 01904 659570 or email Yorkshire Wildlife Trust

The Spurn Migration Festival runs from the 5th – 7th September 2014 and the prices are as follows: £14 for a day ticket, £21 for the weekend ticket and £8 for the evening lecture with delicious hog roast.


NG Birders on getting involved with the Migration Festival

Spurn: 5th-7th September 2014

Matt Bruce on behalf of the ‘Next Generation Birders’.

NGB Aurora

Hi Martin,
1) What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘Migration’ (in relation to birds)
The first thing I think of when I hear the word migration definitely depends upon the season. Spring brings to mind the first Hirundines and Warblers of the year, the excitement of hearing the first Willow Warblers and Swifts! Autumn is all about the Wader passage with any muddy field having the possibility of migrating Waders dropping in. The geese and thrushes are not bad either, coming in to spend the winter here in their thousands, flying over head, often heard before they are seen, it is pretty impressive.
2) Did you come to the Migration Festival last year?
Yes – I attended the 1st ever Migration Festival, and found the whole experience thoroughly enjoyable, despite the weather not dropping a “fall” as many hoped. The Sea Watching was my highlight, with an incredible skua passage, and witnessing a flock of snipe in active migration make land fall from their continental breeding grounds! The evening events were enjoyable and the atmosphere brilliant down the Crown and Anchor. I would recommend it to any birder as a great way to spend an Autumn weekend.
A few of the many 'Next Generation Birders'.  They will be coming and hanging out at the Spurn Migration Festival. Come and join in all the action and meet up with old and new friends.

A few of the many ‘Next Generation Birders’. They will be coming and hanging out at the Spurn Migration Festival. Come and join in all the action and meet up with old and new friends.

3) What will you be doing/ bringing to this years festival.
This year, many Next Generation Birders will be present to enjoy the birding, but also to meet and talk to other birders. I am sure many OGB’s (Older Generation Birders) have plenty of knowledge and stories to pass onto us. We will also be selling some of Jonnie Fisk’s artwork, and creating a video diary of the event for the NGB blog.
Matt Bruce

Don’t miss out:

To Book :

Please call 01904 659570 or emailSpurn Migration Festival one Yorkshire Wildlife Trust

The Spurn Migration Festival runs from the 5th – 7th September 2014 and the prices are as follows: £14 for a day ticket, £21 for the weekend ticket and £8 for the evening lecture with delicious hog roast.

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