28 June 2019

Every now and then I come across some truly inspirational people. People who have gone above and beyond to unselfishly help our wildlife. Our wildlife certainly needs all the help it can get with new build developments popping up all over Wales and in particular on my doorstep. 

At present we have a new state of the art hospital, huge new secondary school and a sixth form block all being built in Cwmbran. Just up the road in Sebastapool is a huge housing development with over 1000 new houses being built. However the developers have totally disrespected the natural area by not including Hedgehog highways, Bat, swift bricks or House Martin clusters. As long as there is a huge profit and the CEO`s just about manage to feed their families then all is well. This particular lady has worked with a group who rescue hedgehogs. The image opposite is a hedgehog who is using one of her nest boxes. 

28 Mai/May 2019

I was so relieved to find that two pairs of Redstarts had returned to my Redstart/Pied Fly site. Disastrously following the 2016 season when I had 6 Pairs of Redstart. Its a complete mystery how I lost 6 pairs for 3 years.

Anyway that is for the history books Im just so relieved that I now have 2 Pairs of this magnificent bird nesting back where they belong here in Wales. Hopefully they will have a healthy clutch each so the offspring can return next year and also start the cycle of life themselves.

May 27 2019

To raise money for my project I get pallets from a friend and turn them into things. My friend Lisa asked me to make her a kennel for her beautiful Labrador. So i broke down several pallets and over laped them to make the kennel waterproof. This is Indian hard wood so will take a while to rot. Lisa could paint or stain it at a later date.

The European Pied Flycatcher feeds mainly on insects caught from a perch. The bird hovers and captures the prey in flight or on the ground after a light dive. During the nesting period, it favours the caterpillars to feed the young. 
It gleans among leaves, but also on tree-trunks and branches, and on the ground where it takes non-flying preys such as caterpillars and some earthworms. It also consumes snails and may occasionally hammer them on hard surface to break open the shell, as the Song Thrush.    
It also takes some plant matter such as fruit and berries, and seeds. It picks berries from the bushes while hovering.

5 Mai/ May 2019

Thought I would share my amazing encounter I had with 6 stunning little Fox Cubs. Mum and dad must have been out hunting and these brave little cubs decided to have a snoop just outside of the den hole.

5 Mai/May 2019

It was an amazing feeling when I found out that Redstarts had returned after a two year absence. The past two years have been considerably negative in terms of Redstart numbers. Last year I saw 1 male Redstart and thought that they had almost vanished from the area. But when I checked on my Pied Flycaycher nest box site I was so relieved to find 2 Redstart nests with one nest having eggs.

I am hoping that this will be a successful year for them and hopefully with good size clutches of 6-7 eggs in both nests would be great. I will make sure we ring these chicks along with my Pieds.

4 Mai/ May 2019

Last years breeding season for me was a complete disaster. I only has 18 Pied Flycatcher pairs nesting and tragically 2 of them were predated by wood mice. We did manage to ring most of the chicks thought on a brighter note. But considering the year before I had 26 Pied Flycatcher pairs nesting, so with the two predated nests I was 10 nests down from the year before.

So that brings me to 2019 season. Whilst monitoring and looking for returning female Pied Flycatchers I can honestly say my heart sunk and I thought this season was going to repeat last years disaster. My first initial thoughts were that returning male numbers looked very good indeed and for a while I was hearing numerous single males singing away on trees with nest boxes on. So my first count was about 16 nests built or in the process and I thought well at least its not going to be any lower than last year.

So after leaving it for a couple of days I thought I would venture out and try and get a more accurate acount of numbers in total. What a magical day it turned out to be for me and a day I will probably remember for years to come. After monitoring all nest boxes in this particular area I counted 28 Pied Flycatcher nests either nearly finished, complete or with eggs in. The day got even better with the discovery of two Redstart nests in boxes which was amazing considering all my 6 pairs of Redstarts from a few years ago had completely disappeard.It was so exciting for me because I love this species an absolutley stunning bird. So I thought the day couldn`t possibly get any better but it did. On my way home I checked on my Pontypool nest box site which did have 2 Pairs of Pieds a few years ago. Cut a long story short Booom !!! 2 more Pied Fly nests. Total 30 nests.

1 Mai/ May 2019

Unfortunately I recieved some devastating news today by my good friend and fellow project volunteer David Tew. David had been to check up on my nest box site up at Blaenbran Community Woodlands in Cwmbran. As you can see in the image opposite we had several nest boxes vandalised. This was not the first time unfortunately so its not classed as an isolated incident. Blaenbran is a beautiful part of our Borough of Torfaen and it used used daily by walkers, dog walkers, Mountain bikers, Scouts, cubs, Brownies and bird watchers. It basically caters for all. 

If i am being brutally honest i did think at the time of erecting them even at ladder height we might get one or two vandalised. So i have made the decision to remove all nest boxes at the end of the breeding season.

23 Mawrth/ March 2019

.We had a very productine day today by erecting 2 Barn Owl nest boxes. Our first nest box of the day was  in beautiful Bwlch which is set in the Brecon Beacons national park and near Brecon. Our second nest box was fitted on top of cut down conifer trees and situated just outside the beautiful town of Talgarth. I must mention my good friend Nathan Jones who gave up his Saturday to help me out. Nathan is a great person who never moans and just gets on the the task at hand.

Diolch yn fawr lawn Nath

2 Marwth/ March 2019

To help me take my mind of my little Owain I with the help of my friend Stuart Smallwood managed to erect this nice looking Barn Owl nest box on Stuarts land situated near beautiful Llandegfedd Reservoir in Monmouthshire. We know there are Barn Owls on the land because they are using an old Oak tree with a huge cavity, This cavity is starting to rot and thr roof of it has now got a hole in it. So we may have erect this nest box at the right time.

1 Mawrth/ March 2019

This morning my wife and I had to make that dreaded decision to have our beautiful Spaniel Owain put to sleep. It's the end of an era for us and especially for our children who grew up with two Springer Spaniels. Obviously we are all heartbroken and will need time to adjust without our boy. We take a little comfort knowing Owain had over 14 years of fun and happiness although we know it will never be the same without him. Fly high over rainbow bridge and run free of pain with Celsey beautiful boy

20 February 2019

I promised myself after falling out of a tree and knocking my head against the ground that I would never go alone when out nest boxing. I made that proimise to myself because after knocking my head that hard I actually blanked out for a few seconds. I`m fifty years of age with numerous ailments so I know I should take things a little slower. Unfortunately I have had problems recruiting volunteers as of late. Obviously we all have families and rightly so they should always come first. So I have not been able to get certain chores done. Not long until breeding season and I still need to replace about 30 nest boxes and I have about 8 Barn Owl boxes to erect.

26 Ionawr/ January 2019

Ive been refurbishing a friends table over the last week and its certainly been a challenge. Its painstakingly and laborious work with all legs having curves and patterns to sand and finish off with 4 coates of varnish.

23 Ionawr/ January 2019

Today I started working at one of my local schools in my home town of Pontypool. Padre Pio RC Primary school is one of my favourite schools I have had the pleasure to work in. This is my third year at the school each time working with year 1 pupils. I generally educate the children on local wildlife and in particular the plight of certain bird species like the House Sparrow and Starling. Part of my education workshop concentrates on the environment and pollution issues and the children are usually really engaged and enthusiastic. We finish off by building a Bird nestbox for the children to take home and erect in their gardens.

12 Lonawr/ January 2019

A huge thank you to my dear friend Kelli for helping me out on Friday. We managed to fit a Little Owl nest box and clean out and re-number about 40 nest boxes. I shall be driving next time though Kelli. ;-)

11 Lonawr/ January 2019

I managed to persuade an old friend of mine today to help me fit a Barn Owl nest box on to an old Oak tree in a village just down the road from our village. It was good to catch up with Cliff because I don"t get to see many of the lads in the village anymore. Obviously family is much more important than messing around erecting nest boxes although if you can get out and about every now and then it doesn`t do any harm. Thanks for your help today Cliff.

7 Lonawr/January 2019

Well as you can see the Barn Owl nest box build continues. Over the past 2 months I have completed 10 Barn Owl nest boxes along with another 40 tit boxes. Not sure if i can finish everything off with concrete as I normally do though. My good friend Clive Gadd has retired from Stately Albion the company who very kindly supply me with a special concrete and other materials. As it stands I have no point of contact at Stately Albion although I have emailed Yvonne one of the company directors asking if I can continue receiving offcuts of ply and other materials.

Yvonne has promised to get back to me with hopefully a new point of contact which will be great because I desperately need certain materials but expecially concrete. If this does not happen then I am going to work out what materials or paint I can use to waterproof all my nest boxes. I don`t get much paint donated so this potentially could cost me personally. Obviously I need to find a solution because my wife will be hoffified if I spend anymore money on my nest box conservation project.

2 Lonawr/January 2019
Exterior Barn Owl nest box

Exterior barn owl nestboxes can be fixed to trees or to the outside of buildings.

Where possible, they should face onto grassland and be reasonably conspicuous with an open flight path to them. They should not face into the prevailing wind.

Although barn owl nests are usually well spaced out, placing boxes in pairs, from twenty to a few hundred metres apart, will provide a pair with roosting as well as nesting sites. The male and female roost separately, and some pairs use different boxes in those good years when they can have two broods.

Since many barn owls are killed by road traffic, it is best not to put up owl boxes close to motorways and main roads.

Barn owls are specially protected by law, and so it is illegal to disturb them close to their nest. Occupied nests - even your box - should only be visited by someone who holds a licence.

Barn Owls would naturally nest in cavities within mature trees. However in today's modern landscape large cavities in trees are often scarce and Barn Owls are reliant on spaces within buildings and purpose made owl boxes. You can help these birds out by putting up a barn owl nest box to provide a safe and comfortable nest site. This owl box has been designed in collaboration with the Barn Owl Trust, and is equally suitable for use inside a building such as a barn, or externally fixed to a tree or wall.


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Interior Barn Owl nest box

An interior box can be made out of a tea chest or a packing case, or purpose built to the illustrated design. Interior boxes can be fixed on beams or on walls by brackets.The barn should be free from regular disturbance and the box should be set somewhat back from the entrance. The front ledge reduces the risk of the young falling when they explore their surroundings before they can fly properly. It is vital that there is a permanently open door or window so the owls are not trapped inside the building or shut out from their young.

The barn owl is the classic 'white owl' of the countryside. It hunts small mammals, especially voles, over rough grassland.It uses quiet barns and cavities in trees for nesting and roosting where its presence is often given away by pellets and droppings.Since barn owls are sensitive to disturbance, it's best to place boxes in quiet locations. You can provide a box inside barns, or on trees or the outside of buildings.

Wild barn owls are given the highest level of legal protection possible under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act. 

Please note that it is against the law to disturb a wild barn owl when nesting.



Barn Owl boxes need to be cleaned out periodically as over each nesting season pellets and debris will accumulate. If this is left to build up over several years the volume of the box will be reduced and the young barn owls will be able to climb out of the box earlier than they should. This Barn Owl Nest Box features a double inspection hatch allowing full access to the whole floor area facilitating cleaning or inspection from either side of the bird box. Both hatches are designed to avoid rain coming in, and are securely held in position with simple fastenings.

Perhaps our most familiar owl, the barn owl will sometimes hunt in the daytime and can be seen 'quartering' over farmland and grassland looking for its next small-mammal meal. However, it is perfectly adapted to hunt with deadly precision in the dark of night: combined with their stealthy and silent flight, their heart-shaped faces direct high-frequency sounds, enabling them to find mice and voles in the vegetation.

The beautiful barn owl is, perhaps, our most-loved owl. With its distinctive heart-shaped face, pure white feathers, and ghostly silent flight, it's easy to identify. Look out for it flying low over fields and hedgerows at dawn and dusk.

Happy New Year to all my website readers. Hope 2019 brings you health, wealth and happiness

22 Rhagfyr/December 2018

I have been increddibly lucky over the past ten years with amazing people volunteering to help out with my conservation project. But I must say Nathan Jones and his lovely wife Trish have been amazing. Because of them I have got so much done including nest box maintenance and numbering. Thank you so much

Heading 6
14 Rhagfyr/December 2018

At this moment in time my illness (crohns and colitis)seems to be under control thank goodness. Its been an extremely hard year or so with my ailments with the added stress of saying farewell to my eldest son. Rhys is in his 3rd year of his PGA golf degree and has recently been given an amazing opportunity to relocate to a prestigious golf club in Hong Kong. Saying farewell to your child knowing that he is on the other side of the world has been extremely stressfull although slightly comforting knowing he is having the time of his life.

So this year I have decided to concentrate my efforts on creating more nesting boxes for Barn Owl`s. I have been very successful with two nest boxes being used and with 6 chicks being raised. More to follow.

6 Rhagfyr/December 2018

I have to give a huge diolch yn fawr lawn to Nathan Jones who always manages a day or two each week to volunteer fo my cause. It seems nothing is too difficult for Nathan and he willingly gets his hands dirty no matter what job he is tasked with. He has fast become an integral part of what I am hoping to achieve with Project Nestbox.

Today we managed to fix numbers onto 70 nest boxes using a ladder to do so. The remainder of the time we had was used for cleaning out nest boxes and replacing those that needed to be replaced and long past their sell by dates. Hopefully next week we can finish off cleaning out and replacing old nest boxes and maybe a coat of paint on one or two of them.

21 Hydref/ October 2018

I have about 15 Barn Owl nest boxes situated around the Gwent area and 5 of these are situated in my home County of Torfaen. Up until now my Torfaen Barn Owl nest boxes have been unsuccessful in terms of nesting pairs although I have had a single bird roosting in at least two of them.

This afternoon following a morning of Dipper site scoping I decided to check up on three local Barn Owl nest boxes. I will be totally honest and own up to forgetting about these particular nest boxes due to them being inactive for at least six years. I could see from droppings and pellets all over the Barn Floor and particularly underneath my nest box that there was an active pair using this site. I guess I made enough noise to disturb both the male and female out of the Barn {as shown below} After informing the Farmer he did mention he had spotted both parent birds all through the summer and two juveniles in the Barn. Sadly he had found another two juveniles dead inside the barn. Good news that the pair had managed to successfully raise two Owlets.

20 Hydref/ October 2018

Searching through a local barn today and came across 2 Tawny Owls.

15 Hydref/ October 2018

These images show my build up of nest boxes which I, along with a few volunteers will start to erect this Friday weather permitting. I have 5 Barn Owl nest, 2 Little Owl, 1 Sparrow, 3 Dipper and about 200 Tit boxes. Obviously the Tit boxes are aimed at Redstart and Pied Flycatcher and some of these will replace older nest boxes. The majority though will be erect at one of my new locations which I am really excited about.

It is my intention to attract a few more pairs of Barn Owl`s in 2019 or at least have nest boxes in place ready to accommodate these marvellous species. I did manage a single pair of Barn Owls this year who successfully managed to raise 4 chicks. As you can see in the images I have 2 ready for erection and I also have another 3 big nest boxes to erect on top of telegraph poles.

Hopefully start work on these next week weather permitting and with volunteers in place.

10 Hydref/ October 2018
6 Hydref/October

Iv'e been extremely busy constructing Hedgehog nest boxes for mostly people in my village over the past few weeks. I think they may have been influenced by the like of Spring/Autumn watch and programmes such as these. This is a very positive thing because animals like Hedgehogs are really struggling at the moment and any exposure can only mean more people helping out this fabulous little animal.

22 September 2018

Through the winter months I usually go into overdrive constructing new nest boxes pending available materials. So with Smart Roof on board I now have as much OS board as I can manage. This has been perfect because having nest box sites within the Brecon Beacons national park they really do suffer adverse weather conditions. With regular Woodpecker and Grey Squirrel attacks I am forever replacing nest boxes. 

20 September 2018

Well over the past week or so I have been building several hedgehog nest boxes for various individuals. I think that people realise that we are entering autumn and obviously cooler temperatures and as a result hedgehogs start looking for a winter hideaway to see out the winter months.

11 September 2018

Iv`e managed to get another company onboard today thanks to John Davies of Davies Timbers Cwmbran. I made my first visit to Smart Roof today and was amazed at how much OS board was offered to me. As the company name suggests Smart Roof are specialised company in making complex roofs. They can actually make up a complete roof in house and break it down into huge sections and ship it out to the customer.

I must give a huge thank you to Dave and Lewis pictured below for helping me load my first kind donation into my vehicle. Its a good job I have a 4x4 due to the weight of the OS board. Diolch Smart Roof

9 September 2018

I was absolutely devastated to learn of the tragic death of one of my Wildlife conservationist heroes. Johnny was an amazing man and much loved all over the Uk. I will never forget his wildlife TV shows which showed Johnny in his natural form.

                                       RIP Johnny Kingdom

1 September 2018

Well as you can see i have managed to keep myself reasonably busy over the past few months. These nest boxes are for my new site or to replace old or damaged boxes. I am starting to run out of Masonry paint, screws, glue and brad pins so I might put out an sos via facebook. I find social medie the best form of scrounging and facebook has  been very fruitful in the past.

22 July 2018

This year I have really focused on promoting my House Martin project within my village. If i am totally honest its not really gone as positive as I would have liked with less than a handful of village residents signing up and allowing a nest cluster to be erect on their property. I do get alot of " Trouble is they make such a mess on my car" which really does frustrate me terribly. People just do not get that we share this planet and certainly don`t own it. So to the kind caring people who have helped out diolch yn fawr iawn.

I must mention my friend Jayne Evans who recently rescued a House Martin fledgling by taking it in and keeping it warm and safe whilst recuperating. Then successfully releasing the fledgling. Well done Jayne and hubby.

16 July 2018

Unfortunately for me I had to say goodbye to this fabulous group of children today which did become very emotional at times. This class of wonderful children will break up for their summer holidays and hopefully take home wonderful memories of my workshop. They will also take home a finished nest box to hopefully errect in their gardens. If witnessing some of the children becoming emotional wasn`t enough Miss Combstock dropped a bombshell by announcing her contract had come to an end and explaining she will start a new position at another school next year. Miss Coombstock has become a very good friend over the last four years and I did start to choke up. I do hope she is happy at her new school and wish her all the very best for next year.

27 June 2018

A local Journalist who actually lives in my village wrote a really nice article on my conservation project. I think she has done a great job and the lay out across two centre pages looked really good. Diolch yn fawr iawn Angharad

24 Mehefin/ June 2018

As reported on social media including Springwatch the plight of the House Martin is very much in the balance at present with fewer numbers returning this year. The House Martin is a childhood favourite of mine having 3 nests on the gable end of my parents house. I became mesmerised with this species and I can remember lying down on my driveway in order to look up directly at the nests being built above me.

I currently live just up from the street I spent all my childhood in and can catergorically remember over 40 House Martin nests active in the two streets. Today there are no nests at all which is a complete disaster. UPVC soffit and fascia have played their part in the demise of House Martin numbers in my area and I am sure changes in my local landscape affected the ecology also.

Today I fitted two House Martin nests that I had made for a friend of my wife. As you can see in the image pairs have already shown interest under the soffit so not a bad area to place a cluster of two.

18 Mehefin/ June 2018

School trip to local Beautiful Pontypool Park

Today we had arranged a day out with Padre Pio school year 1 class after finishing off the nest boxes they had all constructed successfully. This morning I placed the felt roofs onto the nest boxes in order for the children to take home. It has been a pleasure to work in my favourite school again this year and with such a wonderful class of children.

The children and staff really enjoyed the day out to beautiful Pontypool Park bird spotting and litter picking. Below is an image of a Park Benck carved into the shape of the famous Pontypool front row.

17 Mehefin/June 2018

Ringing Day

Today we managed to ring 71 Pied Flycatcher chicks and trapped 9 adult birds. The really positive news was that 2 of the adults were returning birds from last year that we managed to ring as chicks, 1 adult was from a different area and rung by a different ringer. 2 of the adults trtapped did not have rings so we were not able to tell exactly where they were from unfortunately. I was hoping to ring a few more chicks but we failed to get around all nest box sites but hopefully next year I shall arrange to start slightly earlier and make sure we can get to all sites including a few Redstart chicks. 

Thought I would share this image of 4 Blackbird chicks which were well on their way to becoming fully grown and almost ready to fledge the nest. I have been keeping an eye on this nest site and I am happy to say that this is the second brood of chicks for this excellent pair of Blackbird adults.

5 Mehefin/June 2018

Today I spent my second day at my childrens old primary school Ysgol Gymraeg Cwmbran. This was a really good workshop with year 5-6 split up into six small teams. Their task was to measure the correct lengths and cut them into the correct sizes for a nest box. I witnessed awesome team work which resulted in some really good well built nest boxes. The children can be very proud of their achievments over the two days and I will say what a pleasure it was to spend two whole days with such a lovely group of children.

 

Good luck to all the year 6 pupils who will be finishing Ysgol Gymraeg Cwmbran at the end of the year. Then  come September they will be attending Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw comprehensive  school in Pont-y-pwl where my daughter Megan is a sixth former.

Pob Lwc i gyd i ddisgyblion blwyddyn 6

5 Mehefin/June 2018

So here we have Mrs Combstock and Mrs Thomas`s year 1 class. I really have enjoyed working with these delightful children who have been amazing throughout my workshop. As you can see in these images below each enjoyed themselves and all will be taking their nest boxes home with them next week. I must mention all four staff Mrs Combstock, Mrs Thomas, Miss Davies and Miss Jones who are certainly some of the most professional staff I have had the pleasure to work alongside.As for this brilliant school as a whole Mr Welsh the headteacher must be congratulated for his unbelievable hard work and for steering this awesome ship in the right direction.

Diolch yn fawr iawn for inviting me back for a second visit and hopefully not the last.

1 Mehefin/June 2018

Managed to finish the construction of a Triangle Barn Owl nest box destined for Blaen Bran community woodlands in Cwmbran. The intention is to mount this ona telegraph pole of a tree cut down to 16 ft.

I Used OS board and 2x2 for the carcass and glued and screwed together. The roof was also OS boared but covered in an expensive underlay. As you can see in the image the nest box was finished off with treated feather edge timber. 

I shall give the nest box at least 3 coats of Ronseal timber care to hopefully prolong it lifespan. With regular maintenance it should last a few years. 

28 Mai/ May 2018

Well here is my first Pied Flycatcher chicks of the 2018 breeding season. This particular nest seems to be at least 4-6 days earlier than the other 19 Pied Fly nest boxes. Unfortunately I am 7 nests down from last season which is a huge disappointment although I am happy that I still have a few returning pairs. Obviously I am extremely disappointed although not as disappointed as my Redstart numbers. Last year I had six nesting pairs of Redstart with all six pairs succesfully raising their clutches. This year has been devastating with no Redstarts using any of my nest boxes. To make matters worse I have only spotted two male and only one female in the area. I am completely baffled as to why there are no pairs nesting and I have no answers. I am hoping that I may get at least a pair starting a late clutch but the odds of this happening are slim.

23 Mai/ May 2018

Today I had the pleasure of working with the fantastic Ysgol Gymraeg Cwmbran. This is my childrens old primary school and where All children are equal to each other but also accept that children differ from each other and that they can succeed in different ways. Respect is given to every pupil of all races, colour and creed, and to teach the children to develop by respecting children of all cultures and creeds based on their respect of the two languages and cultures in their own country. The school expect children to work hard, to enjoy school life and to keep the rules of the school. In other words the school expect them to work at their tasks and to be pupils of a Welsh Medium Primary School.

It is the schools aim to develop the pupils into independent learners who can research well and can work together as a team in a caring and respectful atmosphere.

Ysgol Gymraeg Cwmbrân is a Welsh Primary School which was opened as an Infant and Junior School in September 1991 serving the catchment area of Cwmbran town and environs. In September 1997 a Nursery class was opened as part of the school. The school accepts pupils in accordance with the County Policy from the beginning of September following their fourth birthday or from the beginning of September following their third birthday to the nursery class.

The main aim of the school is to give each pupil the opportunity to develop to his full potential by nurturing attitudes and sharing experiences that will serve as a strong grounding for adult life. This is done whilst encouraging a pride in Welshness and a loyalty towards community and heritage.

21 Mai/ May 2018

This breeding season has produced more Great tit numbers than I can remember. I have more Great tit nesting in my nest boxes than Blue tit which is definitely the first for me. It looks as though numbers have quadrupled.

During the spring breeding period, Great tits prefer to feed mainly on insectivores, spiders and flies, as well as insects taken from leaves (known as foliage gleaning). This typical diet comprises a high protein-rich glut of food, which is preferable for feeding their young. Watch them closely as they are popular birds in the garden due to their acrobatic manoeuvres while feeding on seeds and nuts.

However, throughout the year Great tits have a tendency to switch over to seeds and fruits, mainly taken from deciduous trees and shrubs. Throughout winter, Great tits will feed mainly on seeds, and will relish whole peanuts and other supplementary garden bird food. Interestingly, during particularly harsh and cold winter periods, Great tits can eat up to 44% their body weight in sunflower hearts and seeds.

19 Mai/ May 2018

Came across this old static caravan on my new piece of land I have been granted permission to erect more nest boxes. Once upon a time a family spent their holidays amoungst an acient woodland in a beautiful part of South East Wales. Unfortunately the caravan has been left to deteriate to an extent you would have to say it is beyond repair. What humans cannot use animals sometimes can and a pair of Blackbirds have taken advantage of a dry and shaded part of the caravan by building a nest on top of an old cupboard. Clever birds.

15 Mai/ May 2018

Back in school with this fab bunch today

13 Mai/ May 2018

Well here is a first glance of some of my Pied Flycatcher nest boxes with the start of several clutches. I have no idea home many I am likely to get this year in terms of full clutches but early indications look reasonably promising.

What is slightly worrying is the lack of Redstart  numbers. So far after several recce`s to my key nest box sites I have only managed to spot one male Redstart and two female Redstarts. I have no Redstart activity in any of my key nest boxes. Is this a nationwide problem or is it just my sites that are lacking. I hope I am completely incorrect and hopefully my next recce will be more fruitful.

Heading 6

Iv`e seen thousands of Great tits nests over the years but I still get excited each time I open up a nestbox with one present. Beautiful speckled pearls of eggs.

6 Mai/ May 2018

It looks as though I will have a bumper number of Nuthatches nesting this breeding season and unbelievably I have at least one pair present at each Nestbox site. I do enjoy watching these little birds they have increddible characters and can be very aggresive towards one another and other species too. Very territorial which probably explains why there is only one pair at each nest box site. They cannot resist using mud around the entrance hole even though the size of my nest box entrance holes are small enough for Nuthatches.

5 Mai/ May 2018

The short video below shows me checking on one of my Barn Owl nest boxes. It was basically just to establish what stage the eggs were at in order to establish when it would be possible to ring the chicks. I spoke to my good friend and Ex school teacher Steve Roberts who is well known around the world as a Raptor expert and who possesses the necessary licence to be able to ring Barn Owl chicks. 

There are only 2 eggs present at the moment so hopefully there should be a few more laid over the next month or so. I shall leave this nest box well alone for at least another 5-6 weeks and only then we shall decide when we can ring the chicks.

28 Ebrill/ April 2018

A couple of weeks ago my good friend Nathan Jones and I managed to wrestle a decent size Barn Owl nest box up two sets of ladders and on to a huge broken limb of a Oak Tree. This massive limb must have come down during the last storm and my god what a noise it must have made. I would like to thank Nathan for giving up his usual Friday to volunteer with my project.

26 Ebrill/ April 2018

Well the 2018 breeding season has well and truly kicked off. Following two days of intense observation at my Pied Fly and Redstart sites I can confirm that the Pied Fly returning numbers look really promising. Although It is worth noting that it looks like more males than females at this stage. Unfortunately I only spotted one male Redstart but could hear several calling in the area. Also worth noting is a very good number of returning Cuckoos with several calling in the area and mainly on the Upper land where there are an abundance of ground nesting Meadow Pipits and Skylarks.

As you can see in image below left I have several Pied Flycatcher nests in the process of being built and numerous Great tit and Blue tits with eggs present like image below right of a Blue tit egg.

Below are images of my first Blackbird nest find of 2018

24 Ebrill/ April 2018

Thought I should post this image of two of my Tawny Owl chicks. Ive not checked on all of my Tawny Owl nest boxes around Gwent although I have checked on four of them. Out of the four nest boxes three of them are occupied with either chicks or eggs and one has been taken over by a family of Grey Squirrels.

20 Ebrill/ April 2018

These lovely images were taken by Michael Fulligar who is a member of Blaen Bran Community Woodlands. The images are of a few Tit boxes I have situated up at BBCW.

With a few volunteers we managed to erect 95 tit boxes with the hope of attracting a few Redstarts. Hopefully at least 1 pair and even better a pair of Pied Flycatchers. I have plans to erect a Barn Owl nest box at some stage probably in the summer and after most birds have finished breeding. It will be set on a telegraph pole and away from other trees. This will hopefully deter Grey Squirrels.

14 Ebrill/April 2018

My two close friend Lisa and Bek live on a small hold near Raglan in Monmouthshire. Back in 2014 I erect 2 Owl boxes on their land one in the Barn and the other on a single tree on the side of a field. So today I had arranged to pop out and check on the Owl nest boxes due to Lisa informing me of a lot of Owl noises during most evenings. Well as you can see in the video and image below the Owl activity reported was very acurate indeed.

Im always extremely careful when checking on Tawny Owl nest boxes because they can quite easily abandon the nest especially with just eggs present. Females are slightly more protective when there are chicks present and have been known to attack people in the process.

13 Ebrill/ April 2018

Today I was out and about repairing and replacing nest boxes in one of my upland sites. Accompanying me today was Nathan Jones (pictured below) who has volunteered to help out with my project. Today was a day he and I will never forget. What I thought would be a routine day repairing and replacing nest boxes turned out to be one of my best ever birding days out. We came across a huge Barn Owl box I erect about 5 years ago in a Big Oak tree and I decided to tap it with my walking stick. If I am totally honest I thought we would either disturb a Tawny Owl or Grey Squirrel but no we actually reluctantly disturbed two Barn Owls. It was a pair because we were able to see the difference in size of both birds.

To top off this remarkable day we managed to spot the first male Pied Flycatcher of the season. It was spotted next to a nest box that was used by a pair of Pied Flycatchers last year. Unfortunately I was not able to distinguish whether the male bird had a ring fitted or not. Exciting times ahead although I shall be really discreet around the breeding pair of Barn Owls even though I have around 40 boxes surrounding it. I know Barn Owl`s do tolerate agricultural noise but I shall be extremely careful.

10 Ebrill/ April 2018

On my last outing I was so disappointed to see so many of my upland nest boxes soaked and rotten. Several of these nestboxes were damaged so badly due to the extremely harsh winter we have suffered this year the only option was to replace. So as you can see in the image opposite I have beenbusy building new nest boxes to replace all damaged ones.

Probably replaced 40 plus due to the severity of this years winter. All i am hoping for now is for my Pieds and Redstarts to return safely.

3 Ebrill/ April 2018

I was out and about repairing and replacing nest boxes today and was extremely surprised to see a very early Great tit nest inside one of my nest boxes.

Great tits seek out and discover breeding territory in January, and subsequently begin their defence of it. In the UK, breeding begins in April and May and the female will usually lay around 12 eggs. Both parents raise the chicks, and it’s quite typical for Great tits to raise two broods in a single year. Danger lurks around the corner, though, and their nests are often raided by woodpeckers, squirrels and weasels.

The chicks hatch blind and unfeathered, much like their Blue tit counterparts, yet once feathers grow the colour is very similar to that of their parents. This is quite unusual in that most chicks develop much duller-looking plumage throughout this early period.

Below are images of a natural Nuthatch nest The Nuthatch will either use a hole in a tree or wall, or take over an abandoned nest. The hole may be reduced in size by plastering it with mud. The nest is made from bark chips and dead leaves. This pair of Nuthatches have taken over an old Greater Spotted Woodpeckers nest.

29 Mawrth/ March 2018

I know I have mentioned this on numerous occasions but it is fully justified to once again thank the people of Torfaen. If I am running low on a product I generally put out an SOS via facebook and twitter with the hope that a local company can help out in some way. I obviously try not to over do it and I always get a positive and productive responce. This is not the first time that Mark Meadows of Meadows Joinery, Pontypool has come to the reacue supplying me with x2 10l tubs of masonry paint. My very good friend Sue Wheeler and a gent called Russ Flyn from Gwent Bee Keepers donated money towards materials below.

Thank you very much guys I really appreciate your kindness

27 Marwth/ March 2018

Unfortunately I am so behind with my preperation for this years breeding season due to adverse weather and 2 Hospital admissions. I have really been struggling with my Crohns, and recently colitis over the past 2 months to an extent where the abdominal pain was unbearable and the only alternative was hospital x2.

The weather has also played a huge part this year with really heavy snowfall on a couple of occasions. This hung around for a week or so and my upland sites were impassable and even with a powerful 4x4 with good mud tryes on was not really worth it. Obviously my family came first so my project was not really priority hence my rant.;-) So today I ventured out and it was a good job I had my Jeep Cherokee 4x4 because some of the roads leading up to my sites were covered in thick mud. The mud on the roads was from the Forestry Commison HGV vehicles and 4x4`s due to them planting thousands of Pine Trees around the farm lands. I did manage to fix,replace and paint about 40 nest boxes at one of my key sites.

27 Mawrth/March 2018

Ever since I was a little boy growing up in my village my mum and dad had a beautiful Springer Spaniel called Elsa. She was a huge part of my family and I will always have fond memories of her. So when my wife and I started our little family going back 22 years ago we both wanted to have a Springer spaniel of our own. Nicola my wife also had a Springer spaniel called Kassie when she lived at home with her parents. 

So when our children started school we decided to have our own Springer Spaniel although we opted for two, a male, and a female called Owain and Celsey. Both dogs became a welcome companion when I was out birding on my own and they both loved being out all day with me. Sadly we had to say goodbye to our beautiful girl 3 years ago and it left a huge void in our lives. We still have Owain and at a grand old age of 13 he is still going strong although not so mobile these days. Today whilst out and about I did stop to think how much I miss both dogs and if im honest its not so enjoyable on my own. Photo opposite is our lovely boy Owain alongside my daughter Megan.

18 Mawrth/March 2018

About fifteen months ago I purchased a fantastic Fiat Doblo car to aid me with my conservation efforts and also my new venture making garden furniture. The car itself was amazing with plenty of room in the back to carry materials. However the suspension on the vehicle was not really suitable for some of my upland nest box sites with a few locations situated inside the Brecon Beacons National Park. As you can imagine the undulations of an upland site demands a 4x4 vehicle and most of the people who access these roads were mostly farmers and their staff and all with 4x4 vehicles. With this in mind I decided to change my Fiat Doblo for a 4x4. I was surprised at how fast I sold my Doblo although I could have sold it 10 times over such was the demand.

 

As you can see in the images below my new vehicle is a Jeep Cherokee 4x4 and a vehicle I have admired for some time. This will practically go anywhere especially with the Town and Country tyres I have fitted. We received another dumping of snow last night and today I was really looking forward to testing it out. The Cherokee did not disappoint and I was blown away how good it performed in deep snow.

3 Mawrth/March 2018

My good old friend Nicky Robinson lives North of our Borough in a little mountain village called Talywain just a few miles North of Pont-y-pwl and where my mum grew up and where my dear Aunty Lyn still resides. Anyhow Nicky is so lucky to have such a diverse range of birdlife visiting his garden on a daily basis. It really is impressive to see with Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Blackcap, Goldcrest, House Sparrow, Starling, Dove, Robin, Dunnock, Bullfinch (5 pairs), Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Siskin, Redpol, Magpie, Jackdaw, Sparrow Hawk and recently for the second year in a row Half a dozen Brambling amoungst huge flocks of Chaffinch.     Take a look below 

3 Mawrth/March 2018

Below are some of the images my readers have been sending me to help identify these species who have been frequenting peoples gardens during this harsh spell of weather. I have also added some basic information on two species in particular. The Redwing and Fieldfare.

The recent arctic temperatures and large volumes of snow has bought about some changes in the wildlife that we are seeing in our gardens. Many of you Garden Watchers have been messaging/texting in and sharing your photos and videos of two birds in particular, the fieldfare and redwing.

 

These two birds are very similar, both winter thrushes that are winter migrants that breed in Continental Europe and Scandinavia in the summer months. They are social birds that are usually seen in groups and flocks. These birds can be difficult to identify, so here is a little information to help you tell which is which. 

Redwings are small thrushes, similar in size to the song thrush. They have a spotted breast and short tail, with chestnut rich-brown plumage and rusty red underwings. These thrushes have a bold white stripe just above their eyes, which is also a clear distinguishable feature.

   Did you know...

  • The redwing is the UK's smallest true thrush.

  • There are only 13 breeding pairs in the UK.

  • A staggering 8.6 million redwings visit the UK in the winter, when they migrate from their breeding grounds in Scandinavia and Continental Europe, usually arriving here between September and October.

  • These birds head to the hedgerows and fields to forage, where they normally feed on berries and worms. When we experience extremely cold spells of weather however, they head to our gardens in search for food. Apples and other fruit are a popular meal for these thrushes.

 

Fieldfares are bigger in comparison to redwings, generally similar in size and shape to the mistle thrush. They have a longer tail compared to the redwing and stand upright and generally move on the ground by hopping about. Like redwings, they are very social birds, usually seen in large flocks in farmland, grassland and woodland areas. 

They have a distinguishable grey head and back, with a black tail and rich-brown plumage on the saddle and wings. Their breast and side flanks are speckled, as like other species from the thrush family. 

    Did you know...

  • There are only 1-2 UK breeding pairs here in the UK

  • Approximately 680,000 fieldfares visit the UK every winter, where they breed in the summer months in Northern Europe.

  • Fieldfares are one of the ultimate defence species of birds, seen deliberately ramming larger birds in flight. They have also been observed aiming and defecating all over the unwanted intruder. You may have even witnessed similar behaviour in your garden, as they are especially territorial over food.

2 Mawrth/March 2018

As you can see through the images below South Wales was hit by extreme adverse weather conditions. This morning I had to dig my way out of drifting snow to get to my workshop although it was way to cold to spend any time in my workshop.

I did manage a small work through my nearby woodlands and was so surprised to see so many species of bird literally cowering on the ground up against Oaks and birches such was the unpresidented temperatures. What was very surprising was the high numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare. These birds are Scandinavian birds and should be used to such temperatures so this was an indicator of how bad things were. On returning home I began to get inundated with texts and emails asking me to identify bird species in peoples back gardens such as Brambling, Redwing, Fieldfare and very surprising Hawfinch. 

A very rare occurance to report on Hawfinch sighting so close to dwellings and in the space of a couple of weeks. Now all these birds mentioned are masters at loooking for food sources but usually Rural and only on rare occasions Urban. Don`t get me wrong what a fantastic spectacle this is witnessing these special birds so close up and personal. On my way home from my little walk I was amazed at how many Redwing and Fieldfare were foraging beneath garden shrubbery in my street and something I have never witnessed before. Spring need to get a move on with Tawny Owl,Dipper and Blackbird to name but a few soon to be at egg stage. Slightly worrying times. :-( 

27 Chwefror/February 2018

Hawfinches largely bypass the UK in the winter, staying in central Europe, but poor harvests on the continent has sent them further north looking for autumn fruits and nuts.

Nature experts are urging people to get outside this weekend to glimpse the elusive birds that are renowned for their parrot like bills, and which are flocking in groups of 100 or more, which is around 12 times the national average.

The National Trust has reported there hawfinches at Fyne Court, Somerset - where hawfinches have not been seen for seven years - as well Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire, Sizergh, in Cumbria and the Slindon Estate in West Sussex.

The birds have also been spotted at Sissinghurst in Kent, Felbrigg in Norfolk, Hatfield Forest in Essex, Basildon Park in Berks, Steps Hill at Ashridge in Bucks and Wimpole in Cambs.

Nature specialist Matthew Oates, says, “There has been an unprecedented influx of these shy and secretive birds to our shores.

“The keenest of birders may only spot a handful of hawfinches during years of birdwatching but right now, everyone has a chance.

“The best places to look are around hornbeam trees and yew groves that still bear their autumn fruit. If you’re at a loose end what to do this weekend, get outside to try and catch a sight of these enigmatic characters – it may be quite a while until such an opportunity comes round again.”

The birds are known for the parrot-like bills   

The remarkable invasion of the bird – which is the UK’s largest, rarest and most elusive finch - has been attributed to poor seed crop yields in other parts of Europe, notably in the bird’s main winter feeding grounds of Germany and Romania.

In contrast, in Britain there has been an explosion of berries, nuts and seeds, after fine spring weather earlier in the year.

Records logged by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) suggest that several thousand hawfinches have arrived in recent weeks, where only a few hundred are normally spotted.

Experts said this year’s influx is unparalleled, with twitchers recording the same number of sightings as it would usually take a lifetime to accrue.

It is thought there are fewer than 1000 pairs of hawfinch native to the UK after dramatic declines in recent years, though the resident population is augmented by winter migrants from the continent.

Peter Farr a very good friend of mine and a person I have grown up with works as an Estate Foreman somewhere In Monmouthshire. He recently posted the below images of a Hawfinch that bhad unfortunately got caught up in some sort of Horticutural Netting. Thankfully this stunning bird was lucky and was detangled by Pete and realeased unharmed. So I thought it was a great opportunity for my readers to take a close up look at the UK`s biggest finch. 

13 Chwefror/February 2018

Tracking Pied Flycatchers

When do they go? How do they get there? And where do they go?

Pied Flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca are one of the best studied passerines in Europe, yet we know little about their migratory timings or even where populations winter. We are now starting to find out.
 
Pied Flycatchers, like Blue Tits Cyanistes caeruleus and Great Tits Parus major, breed in nest boxes at high densities which enables large numbers to be monitored, so making them good model systems for all manner of studies. But an important difference between tits and flycatchers is that flycatchers migrate. Despite knowing a huge amount about Pied Flycatcher breeding ecology, we actually know little about their migration timings, migration routes or the locations of their African non-breeding grounds. This is important to find out, as the UK population has declined by 53% since 1995 (Baillie et al. 2014) and has declined in other parts of their European breeding range (BirdLife International 2015)

In the UK there is little evidence that declines are strongly linked to factors affecting them on their breeding grounds. Availability and quality of western oakwoods is largely unchanged (Amar et al. 2010), although it is possible that timing of breeding has become increasingly mismatched with prey availability as warmer and advanced springs result in earlier availability of invertebrate food (see my previous BOU blogs here and here). Such a phenological mismatch has been linked to European Pied Flycatcher declines (Both et al. 2006) although UK data suggests some adaptation, with advances in egg laying date at the same time as relatively unchanged productivity (Baillie et al. 2014). Although these factors may play some role, it seem likely that other important pinch points exist outside of the breeding season.
 
We know so little about the non-breeding and migratory ecology of Pied Flycatchers partly because we have been unable to follow individuals. Without any precise information about where they go between breeding seasons we have little to go on. In the UK, 645,000 Pied Flycatchers have been ringed since 1909, and yet just five UK breeding (and no UK hatched) have subsequently been found in African wintering grounds. This is one recovery per 129,000 birds; ringing alone is not going to help us. But continued miniaturisation of the lightest available tracking devises, geolocators, now means we are able to track Pied Flycatchers.

In 2012 Chris Hewson (BTO) fitted geolocators to 20 adult male Pied Flycatchers at my long term monitored population at East Dartmoor National Nature Reserve in Devon, UK (Burgess 2014). This transpired to be an unlucky choice of year. The following spring was the coldest since 1962 with winter-like conditions continuing into April resulting in the latest Pied Flycatcher first arrival date at the study site for 23 years (despite a long term trend for earlier arrival). It was an extra nervous wait for tagged birds to return. But once they did arrive we quickly identified two birds, caught them and removed their loggers. The late and cold spring meant return rates were low for both tagged and untagged males and so we retrieved fewer loggers than we hoped. But the two tags we did retrieve revealed tracks and timings to Africa and back, and the two winter locations derived from 20 loggers is equivalent to 35 years of national effort ringing hundreds of thousands of individuals.

Just one track from a species can be newsworthy and provide totally new information, such as recent work on Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus and Ring ouzel Turdus torquatus (Sim et al. in press). Our two UK breeding Pied Flycatchers went to the same region as the UK ring recoveries – Liberia or southeast Guinea. This is important information, suggesting UK birds are concentrated in a relatively small portion of the species’ winter distribution in sub-Saharan western Africa.

9 Chwefror/February 2018

Just a short video showing the finished storage box/seat. I shall probably deliver this on Sunday as I desperately need the space in my workshop.

8 Chwefror/January 2018

Customers always come first. So everything else I have going on at the moment is on the back burner while struggling with my old nemesis (bad back)to try and get a customers storage bench made out of pallets completed. What makes everything that much harder at the moment is the cold damp weather we are experiencing. Roll on Spring time. ;-)

I did report a few weeks ago about my excitement on receiving some good news concerning Permission being granted to erect nest boxes in a Local Woodland called Lasgarn Woods. But on closer inspection of the woodland along with Torfaen Borough Council`s senior Ecologist Steve Williams it became apparant that the site was far to steep to even attempt erecting nest boxes on such difficult terrain.

So as it stands I now have 95 Tit , 6 Tree Creaper and 2 Tawny Owl nest boxes stored in my back garden awaiting erection. Although I have now had an offer to store them in a nearby Farm in one of the out buildings. Search for suitable site continues.

29 Lonawr/January 2018

16 Lonawr/January 2018

Today I made a surprise visit to Padre Pio RC School in my hometown of Pontypool. When I worked with these amazing little people back in Summer 2017 I had such a fabulous time. Every child in this class is a little angel and so polite and well behaved.

What is more amazing is the knowledge they possess. Absolutely astonishing knowledge of woodland birds and it was so apparent that my visit back in the Summer has paid off. I was so proud of them all after I asked numerous questions about what we talked about during my last visit. The children have invited me back to the school for this summer and probably before they break up for the summer holidays. I can honestly say I am looking forward to it.

12 Lonawr/January 2018

I received some excellent news yesterday. I have been given permission to erect nest boxes on land I have been hoping to use for quite a while. The land in question is owned by Torfaen County Borough Council and has a huge Woodland on it with the woodland itself on the side of a Mountain range. I will be meeting with Steve Williams who is the Head Ecologist of Torfaen Council on site and Steve has promised a guided tour of the Woodlands which will be very useful as I have never had the time or opportunity to explore the huge bit of land it sits on. I am really excited due to the fact I have numerous nest box sites adjacent to the land and I did manage two Pied Flycatcher clutches and several Redstart clutches in the past.

11 Lonawr/January 2018

Images below are of my latest bit of furniture for a lady in Newport. The lady in question has acquired a different style bench a few months ago and it seems she liked it enough to make another order. The bench was finished off with 2 coats of Danish oil and will be delivered to her on Sunday.

10 Lonawr/January 2018

In order to raise money to enable me to purchase materials like nails, glue and screws I cannot just rely on the good will of peoples kindness with much needed donations. So I decided to help fund my project by collecting old or unwanted pallets and turning them into garden or home style furniture. This has been a great success and to date I have sold numerous bench type furniture to interested parties.

Another interest of mine is watching the hit TV series Game of Thrones and I have been amazed at just how popular this series is by peoples comments on facebook. So I decided to build a Game of Thrones themed garden chair basically to test the waters so to speak. It was the day after I showed off my finished chair I was contacted by a lady who lives nearby in Cwmbran who wanted to buy the chair in question. Below is an image of my second Game of Thrones themed chair.

7 Lonawr/January 2018

I am always amazed how dedicated volunteers are and my friends David and Mark Tew are no exception. Once again they have sacrificed a nice lie in and family time with both having young children. Without these guys it would be simply impossible to achieve what we did today.

 

We agreed on a strategy to work as a 3 man team with each individual assigned a job. I mainly fixed the nest boxes to the trees thanks to my Dewalt impact driver followed by Dave with a paintbrush giving the nest boxes a final coat whilst fixed to the tree. Mark went ahead of us and layed the nest boxes out in a string with each box at the base of a chosen Beech tree.

It was a beautiful sunny day but bitterly cold with a North Easterly wind blowing into our faces. I was comfortably warm knowing that I was fully protected with my new Karrimor Weather tight clothing and footwear. All in all a very productive day

Thanks guys you are both Legends.

6 Ionawr/January 2018

Well tomorrows weather forecast is coolio,

very coolio 3 degrees to be precise. However that is not going to stop these marvellous bunch of guys helping out once again.

I am always extremely impressed with volunteer committement and these guys are no exception. Young Charlie pictured opposite became interested in my project following a school visit to his old school Coed Eva Primary in Cwmbran, Torfaen. Although Charlie now attends a local secondry school called Fairwater High he still has a love for the outdoors.

1 Ionawr/January 2018

I must give a huge thank you to the Tew brothers Mark and David who once again gave up their Sunday morning to help me erect another 20 nest boxes. The Sunday before christmas they once again volunteered their service to which I am truly grateful. Without volunteers I would certainly not be able to manage the work load.

Picture above right is one of the extremely kind donation presented by Mark Tew. These materials will be gratefully used fitting Nest Boxes to the trees. Diolch yn fawr iawn Mark.

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