TOP END Tour 11-19 June 2020

Purple-Crowned Fairy-Wren - Photograph by Alfred Schulte - Inala Nature Tours
Purple-Crowned Fairy-Wren - Photograph by Alfred Schulte - Inala Nature Tours
Tour date: 
Thursday, 11 June 2020 to Friday, 19 June 2020
9 days
Tour Price: AU $5,655 per person sharing for a minimum group size of 6 people / Single supplement: AU $1,070
Around 200 species of birds including range-restricted species like Hooded Parrot, Rainbow Pitta, Banded Fruit Dove, Sandstone Shrike-thrush, White-quilled and Chestnut-quilled Rock-pigeon Sought-after mammals including Short-eared and Wilkin’s Rock-wallaby, Antilopine and Black Wallaroo, Black Flying-fox and Dingo. Enjoy Kakadu’s vast wetlands. Gouldian Finch and Yellow Chat. Visit the Kimberly including Lake Argyle. Spectacular scenery, indigenous rock art and amazing boab trees (Adansonia gregorii).

This tour explores some of Australia's most iconic areas of Northern Australia, including Kakadu and the Kimberley. Some of our most sought after birds, including Gouldian Finch and Hooded Parrot inhabit some of our most stunning landscapes. Join us for on our next journey across Australia’s Top End!

Start Location: 
Darwin NT
Finish location: 
Kununurra NT

Inala’s Top End Tour - Birds and Wildlife of Kakadu and the Kimberley 11-19 June 2020 

Day 1. Thu 11 June 2020. Explore Darwin area
Day 2. Fri 12 June 2020. Darwin to South Alligator, Kakadu
Day 3. Sat 13 June 2020. South Alligator to Cooinda, Kakadu
Day 4. Sun 14 June 2020. Kakadu to Pine Creek
Day 5. Mon 15 June 2020. Pine Creek to Timber Creek
Day 6. Tue 16 June 2020. Timber Creek
Day 7. Wed 17 June 2020. Timber Creek to Kununurra
Day 8. Thu 18 June 2020. Kununurra
Day 9. Fri 19 June 2020. Kununurra and depart


Around 200 species of birds including range-restricted species like Hooded Parrot, Rainbow Pitta, Banded Fruit Dove, Sandstone Shrike-thrush, White-quilled and Chestnut-quilled Rock-pigeon
Sought-after mammals including Short-eared and Wilkin’s Rock-wallaby, Antilopine and Black Wallaroo, Black Flying-fox and Dingo. Enjoy Kakadu’s vast wetlands. Gouldian Finch and Yellow Chat. Visit the Kimberly including Lake Argyle.
Spectacular scenery, indigenous rock art and amazing boab trees (Adansonia gregorii).

This tour explores some of Australia's most iconic areas of Northern Australia, including Kakadu and the Kimberley. Some of our most sought after birds, including Gouldian Finch and Hooded Parrot inhabit some of our most stunning landscapes. Join us for on our next journey across Australia’s Top End!

B- breakfast; L- lunch; D-dinner

Day 1. Thursday 11 June 2020. Darwin and surrounds.
The tour will start in Darwin this morning. Darwin is surrounded by a fantastic diversity of habitat types that we will spend the day exploring for a range of interesting birds and mammals. Mangrove and monsoon forests are especially rich, hosting an impressive range of possible highlights includes the elusive Chestnut Rail, Orange-footed Scrub-fowl, Rose-crowned Fruit Dove, the striking Rainbow Pitta, Forest Kingfisher, Red-headed Myzomela (Honeyeater), Mangrove Robin, Green Oriole, Blue-faced Honeyeater, Green-backed Gerygone, Spangled Drongo, Blue-winged Kookaburra, Great Bowerbird, Pheasant Coucal, Pied and Silver-backed Butcherbird and Red-collared Lorikeet.  Little Red Flying-fox and Agile Wallaby are possible mammal highlights.
Accommodation: Darwin (en suite hotel room). Meals included: L, D.

Day 2. Friday 12 June 2020. Darwin to South Alligator (Kakadu).
This morning we start the day with a visit to Fogg Dam. This well-known site is an excellent area for waterbirds including Magpie Goose, Green Pygmy-goose, Pied Heron, Glossy Ibis, the stately Brolga, White-browed Crake and the quirky Comb-crested Jacana. En route to Kakadu we will enjoy a stop at the Adelaide River crossing for lunch where we may see Mangrove Golden Whistler and a variety of flycatchers like Shining, Restless and Broad-billed Flycatchers. On arrival in Kakadu we will take a short walk to local lagoon to enjoy sunset.  After dinner, if time permits, we may do some spotlighting for nocturnal species such as Barking Owl, Tawny Frogmouth, Large-tailed Nightjar and Australian Owlet-nightjar.
Accommodation: South Alligator (en suite cabins). Meals included: B, L, D.

Day 3. Saturday 13 June 2020. South Alligator to Cooinda (Kakadu).
This morning we will make a stop at the impressive Mamukala Wetlands where, if conditions are right, we can enjoy thousands of birds of many species. Plumed and Wandering Whistling Ducks, Radjah Shelduck, Black-necked Stork, Magpie Goose and Green Pygmy-goose are possible highlights. After this there is an option to visit Ubirr, a site of rock outcrops in Kakadu that is home to some impressive aboriginal rock art. The art depicts creation ancestors and animals of the area, including several fish and turtle species, wallabies and possums. In the late afternoon, Short-eared Rock Wallabies may be seen emerging from their shelters. Species we may enjoy at several other short stops today include Sandstone Shrike-Thrush, Chestnut Quilled Rock Pigeon, Partridge Pigeon (red eyed form) and Rufous-throated Honeyeater.

In the afternoon we will enjoy a cruise on the Yellow Waters Billabong, Kakadu’s best-known wetland. This impressive wetland of channels, swamps and floodplains is a delight to explore and is home to crocodiles a-plenty and a variety of waterbirds including Nankeen Night-heron, Black-necked Stork, Little Kingfisher, White-bellied Sea-eagle and Purple Swamphen. The stately Great-billed Heron and Black Bittern may also be seen as might the rare Black Falcon.  In the early evening we will check in to our accommodation.
Accommodation: Cooinda (en suite cabins).  Meals included: B, L, D.

Day 4. Sunday 14 June 2020. Cooinda to Pine Creek.
This morning we will make an early visit to Nourlangie Rock where we have a reasonable chance of seeing the range-restricted Black Wallaroo, Banded Fruit-dove, White-lined Honeyeater, Little Woodswallow, Black-tailed Treecreeper and Helmeted Friarbird. We will then enjoy a last look around Kakadu before making our way out of the park and south west towards the Pine Creek area.  We will be sure to stop for any new birds and mammals on the way.

After checking in to our accommodations we will visit a dam where we may see Gouldian Finch. We may also opt for stops at the Water Gardens and the Old Cemetery where Red-winged Parrot, the sought-after Hooded Parrot, Northern Rosella, Red-backed Kingfisher, the delightful Red-backed Fairy-wren, Australian Figbird, Great Bowerbird and Masked, Long-tailed and Double-barred Finches are possible. 
Accommodation: Pine Creek (en suite rooms).  Meals included: B, L, D.

Day 5. Monday 15 June 2020.
Pine Creek to Timber Creek. Today we begin our journey west across the Top End. En route we have additional chances for Hooded Parrot and, with luck, we may see the uncommon northern race of Crested Shrike-tit. We will explore the cane-grass habitat on the fringes of the Victoria River for the lovely Purple-crowned Fairy-wren and Yellow-rumped Mannikin. Freshwater Crocodiles are common here and, unlike their saltwater cousins, subsist mostly on fish, and thus pose little threat to large mammals (humans included!). Other possible species today include Black-tailed Treecreeper, Rufous-throated, Black-chinned and Banded Honeyeaters and Buff-side Robin.  
Accommodation: Timber Creek (en suite hotel room). Meals included: B, L, D.

Day 6.  Tuesday 16 June 2020. Timber Creek.
Today will be dedicated to continuing our search for the stunning Gouldian Finch. This area is also home to rich diversity of species and there will be plenty to keep us entertained while we search for our quarry. Highlights may include the sought-after Spinifex Pigeon, Yellow-tinted Honeyeater, Star, Long-tailed and Masked Finches and Chestnut and Yellow-rumped Mannikin.
Accommodation: Timber Creek (en suite hotel room). Meals included: B, L, D.

Day 7. Wednesday 17 June 2020. Timber Creek to Kununarra.
This morning we continue our sojourn west, and cross the Western Australia border. We will be on the lookout for the very rare Pictorella Mannikin and raptors as we go, including Square-tailed Kite. While today is a travel day, we will be passing through spectacular countryside and making regular stops to stretch our legs and enjoy any birding highlights. In the late afternoon, we will arrive in Kununurra in the fabled Kimberley area.
Accommodation: Kununurra (en suite hotel room). Meals included: B, L, D.

Day 8. Thursday 18 June 2020. Kununurra.
Today we have a full day to explore the riches of the Kimberley in the Kununurra area. A certain highlight is bound to be a boat trip on Lake Argyle, where we will enjoy a wonderful variety of waterbirds, as well as search for two very special birds, the highly sought after Yellow Chat and White-quilled Rock Pigeon. Australian Reed-warbler may be seen in the lakeside vegetation, as might White-browed Crake and Pheasant Coucal. Local conditions will determine where we spend the rest of the day, with additional possible birding highlights including Brolga, Northern Rosella, Silver-crowned Friarbird, Blue-faced Honeyeater, Bar-breasted and Banded Honeyeaters, and Sandstone Shrike-thrush. Mammals in the area include Short-eared Rock-Wallaby and Northern Nail-tail Wallaby.
Accommodation: Kununurra (en suite hotel room) Meals included: B, L, D.

Day 9. Friday 19 June 2020. Kununurra and depart.
Today after breakfast we will transfer to the Kununurra airport where the tour will end. Based on 2019 flight schedule the following possibilities are available for onward travel: Kununurra to Broome 11:25-12:50 (and Broome to Perth 13:50-16:25) or Kununurra to Darwin 15:55-18:25.
Meals included: B

Tour Price:  AU $5,655 per person sharing for a minimum group size of 6 people
Single supplement: AU $1070
Price includes: 8 nights’ accommodation, specialist guide and transport, meals, entrance fees and activities as mentioned in the itinerary.
Price does not include: International and domestic airfares, gratuities, alcoholic beverages, snacks, internet, laundry or other items of a personal nature.

Please note: We would be pleased to arrange accommodation in Darwin on Wednesday 10 June 2020 so that you will be available to maximise your birding and wildlife viewing experience in Darwin at the start of the tour on day 1 above.

Meals and drinks: Breakfast generally consists of a continental style breakfast with cereal, fruit and yoghurt and tea/coffee.  Full cooked breakfast is not generally offered at most locations.  Lunch will generally consist of a packed lunch style meal eaten in the field, with sandwich/filled roll, fruit, and a drink.  Dinner usually consists of several options for main with the choice of either an appetiser or dessert. Drinks (soft and alcoholic) are generally not included but at lunches and breakfasts juice may be made available.
The itinerary: Whilst we aim to follow the itinerary as planned, please note that the itinerary provided should only be used as a guideline.  Depending on individual trip circumstances, weather, and local information, the exact itinerary may not be strictly adhered to. The guides reserve the right to make changes to the itinerary as they see fit.

Inala’s Top End Tour - Birds & Wildlife of Kakadu & the Kimberley
22nd - 30th June 2019
Tour Leader: Steve Davidson

Day 1. Saturday 22 June, 2019.  The first day of our Inala Top End tour commenced in the tropical city of Darwin where, after a very early and unexpected evacuation of the premises due to an accidentally triggered fire alarm, our intrepid group of birders met for breakfast. 

There was no time to waste, and rapid-fire birding started in a patch of riparian rainforest east of the city, with Brahminy, Black & Whistling Kites seen en route. Once on site we started picking out regional specialties like Arafura Fantail, Green-backed Gerygone, Orange-footed Scrubfowl, Shining Flycatcher, Arafura Shrike-thrush (recently split from Little Shrike-thrush), Northern Fantail, Grey Whistler, Spangled Drongo, Yellow Oriole, the ubiquitous Rainbow Bee-eater and a brief Rose-crowned Fruit-dove. Reptilian representatives included Yellow-faced Turtle, Swanson’s Snake-eyed Skink, a basking Merten’s Water Monitor and amazingly, the rarely seen and wholly aquatic Arafura File Snake.

A visit to mangroves and mudflats north of Darwin yielded Red-headed Myzomela, Mangrove Gerygone, Broad-billed Flycatcher, Eastern Reef Egret, Azure Kingfisher, a huge mob of White-breasted Woodswallow and Striated Heron. Out on the mudflats we were able to identify Greater and Lesser Sandplovers, Red-capped Plover and Great Knot. 

After a pretty snazzy lunch at Cullen Bay we visited a few wetlands around town, with Brolga, Magpie Goose, Pied Heron, Green Pygmy-goose, Intermediate Egret, Comb-crested Jacana and Swamp Harrier all on show. Adjacent woodlands yielded Paperbark Flycatcher, Rufous-banded Honeyeater, Varied Triller, Red-winged Parrot and Lemon-bellied Flyrobin.

It was a big day in the tropics and a shower and dinner was called for, but not before we had one last stop to make, where the resident pair of Rufous Owls did not disappoint.

85 species for the day was a worthy return on our efforts, and an excellent kick-off for the tour…

Day 2, Sunday 23rd June. With a little more time to bird the Darwin environs we headed to some more mangrove-edge habitat where we soon had a little trio of Canary White-eye, as well as more Red-headed Myzomelas, Northern Fantail and a feisty group of Double-barred Finch. Nearby we lucked onto some bizarre-looking Bush Thick-knees at their day roost, while on the rocks offshore were Pacific Golden Plover, Terek Sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler, Lesser Crested Tern and Black-naped Tern. A real and very unexpected surprise was locking onto a pod of Australian Humpback Dolphins literally 50m offshore.  Agile Wallabies occupied grassy clearings nearby.

With time against us we bid farewell to Darwin and headed east, nabbing Pacific Baza en route before a quick lunch and a visit to Fogg Dam, where we managed to lock onto a bedazzling Rainbow Pitta in the littoral scrub, as well as Little Bronze-cuckoo, an out-of-range Shining Bronze-cuckoo, Arafura Fantail, Forest Kingfisher, Australian Hobby, Australasian , Radjah Shelduck, 4 different egrets and a lone Yellow-billed Spoonbill. Asian Water Buffalo grazed the swamp off in the middle distance.

Heading into the world-famous Kakadu National Park before dark was our priority, but not before we’d had late afternoon looks at a pair of beautiful Mangrove Golden Whistler and Crimson Finch, with drive-by sightings of Red-backed Kingfisher and Channel-billed Cuckoo. Calling Barking Owls that night remained unseen.

Day 3, Monday 24th June. Our intrepid posse set out early this morning in order to witness this amazing and world-renowned region, and we soon had some great birds in the form of Magpie Goose, Glossy Ibis, Pheasant Coucal, Masked Finch, Little Woodswallow, Great Bowerbird, Silver-crowned Friarbird, Blue-winged Kookaburra and nesting White-throated Honeyeaters. Our first Estuarine, or Saltwater Crocodiles were witnessed today too.

Nearby Arnhem Land escarpment country produced a clifftop viewing of the restricted-range Sandstone Shrike-thrush, whilst the regionally endemic Banded Fruit-Dove was unfortunately only seen by some… More birds and fascinating rock art were much appreciated as the day heated up, and we scored with a covey of the range-restricted Partridge Pigeon, whilst a Black-breasted Buzzard soared overhead. A refreshing lunch was enjoyed in the township of Jabiru, after which we got onto a trio of Black-tailed Treecreeper and our first Weebills in nearby tropical woodland.

Late afternoon saw us check in to our accommodation and make it just in time for our evening cruise on the famous Yellow Waters, part of the South Alligator floodplain. Bursting with birdlife we witnessed huge numbers of both Plumed & Wandering Whistling Ducks, as well as Black-necked Stork, Pied Heron, hundreds of egrets, Green Pygmy-goose, Comb-crested Jacana and their tiny young, Nankeen Night-heron, White-bellied Sea-eagle, Azure, Forest & Sacred Kingfishers, Whiskered Tern, Brush Cuckoo and many more. Some distant wild swamp horses was an interesting story, plus a smashing sunset topped proceedings off.  It had been an epic day, and our more than luxurious accommodation enveloped us in its comforting arms that night to deliver us some well-earned slumber.

Day 4, Tuesday 25th June. Not to rest on our laurels we were out again early this morning to soak up a bit more Kakadu magic, and undertook a short hike with a bit of a climb to view the incredible Arnhem Land escarpment. It took a bit of effort but we finally managed great views of the range restricted White-lined Honeyeater, an Arnhem Land endemic. We also chanced upon a beautiful Black Wallaroo nearby, a large wallaby that too is an endemic to this region. Other birds in the vicinity included Leaden Flycatcher, Northern Fantail, Rufous Whistler, Grey Shrike-thrush and better views of Silver-crowned Friarbirds feeding in kurrajong flowers.

Driving on through the southern part of Kakadu NP we stopped at various intervals for new birds, with one spot producing a plethora of honeyeaters in some flowering grevilleas. These included Bar-breasted, Banded, Dusky, Brown, White-gaped, White-throated, White-quilled (Blue-faced) & Rufous-throated Honeyeaters, as well as Little & Silver-crowned Friarbirds. Nearby were our first Red-backed Fairy-wrens and Long-tailed Finches. 

Further on we were fortunate to see a family of 3 Silver-backed Butcherbird, as well as Yellow-throated Miner, and our next stop produced a large and photogenic party of the beautiful Northern Rosella. 

With time pressing, we regretfully headed out of the park and down toward Pine Creek, our stop for the night. Just as we pulled into town our senses were assaulted by none other than a very much wanted target species for the tour – the pulchritudinous and very range-restricted Hooded Parrot! With the dying rays of the sun on these fantastic and endearing parrots our cameras were almost in meltdown mode, and indeed it was a fitting end to another brilliant day.

Day 5, Wednesday 26th June. After a fabulous morning session with the Hooded Parrots we paid a visit to some nearby ponds where there were a variety of waterbirds present, with Pied Stilt, Australasian Grebe, Black-fronted Dotterel and Grey Teal all new for the trip. Woodlands adjacent held White-throated Gerygone, White-winged Triller, Little Woodswallow, a pair of atiel and a Singing Honeyeater.

The remainder of the day involved a fair chunk of driving and driving south through Katherine we stopped for an early lunch, then headed west. Stopping en route we picked up various birds such as Yellow-tinted Honeyeater, Red-winged Parrot, Black-faced Woodswallow, Striated Pardalote and Wedge-tailed Eagle. 

The quiet lull of mid-afternoon coasting was at one point shattered by the thunderous, banshee-like roar of “BUSTARD…!!!” from one of our party. Sure enough, after a 6-point turn of our bus, we managed to clap eyes on one of our more magnificent avian beasts, the stately Australian Bustard whom offered up some pretty cracking photographic ops.

Nearer to our accommodation at the tiny town of Timber Creek, we lucked upon a late afternoon congregation of Red-tailed Black-cockatoos coming in for an evening drink at a rapidly drying pool in the river. The flame red flashes in their tails was a sight to behold. Also here were several Yellow-tinted Honeyeaters and some confiding Red-collared Lorikeets gorging themselves on the nectar of flowering eucalypts.

Day 6, Thursday 27th June. A pre-dawn, pre-breakfast stroll saw us at a pandanus-lined creek waiting for both daylight and the local Buff-sided Robin to show, which both duly did, much to the appreciation of everyone gathered. 

With a full day to explore the fabulous Victoria River region we set out, galvanised after the author’s favourite breakfast of egg and bacon sarnie… 

New birds came thick and fast, and in rapid succession we imbibed views of Hooded Robin, Varied Sittella, Grey-crowned Babbler, Jacky Winter, Pheasant Coucal, more Black-tailed Treecreepers, Masked & Long-tailed Finches and Red-backed Fairywrens and a pair of subtly patterned Red-browed Pardalote. Budgerigars heard flying high overhead went frustratingly unseen.

Some considerable time spent scouring the cane grass edges of the Victoria River eventually resulted in some wonderful birding with the star attraction here – Purple-crowned Fairywren, showing well. In addition to this we also had our first views of Star Finch, Brown Quail, Grey-fronted Honeyeater, Varied Lorikeet, Golden-headed Cisticola and Little Crow. A native Orchid Tree was brimming with honeyeaters feeding on its nectar, and the aforementioned Grey-fronted, plus Rufous-throated, Yellow-tinted, Singing, White-quilled (Blue-faced), White-gaped and White-throated Honeyeaters were in attendance, as well as Little Friarbird and Yellow-throated Miner.

Antilopine Wallaroo seen on the drive back to Timber Creek was an excellent mammalian highlight.

Day 7, Friday 28th June. Extending our reach ever westward, today’s journey took us further into the vast Kimberley region of the NT/WA border region. Another roadside stop to view the mighty Victoria River resulted in some pretty cool sightings of a couple of new birds. Yellow-rumped Mannikin was on show straight away, a much-wanted bird that gave us some great views in the spotting scope. Also in the flock was a single Chestnut-breasted Mannikin and a bunch of Star Finch, and rather fortuitously a pair of Purple-crowned Fairywren that put on a good show for us. Over the river itself were a few Fairy Martins and a Caspian Tern, plus distant Wedge-tailed Eagle and White-bellied Sea-eagles, and nearby a Buff-sided Robin showed beautifully. Down on the muddy margins sat a few appreciably distant Saltwater Crocs…

At lunch we were visually assaulted by our only Gouldian Finches of the trip, with several of these gorgeous finches only metres away foraging on recently burnt ground for dropped grass seed. The author of this report is vastly relieved and most grateful to these birds, as our prospects were looking decidedly shaky!

Birds seen as we drove on included good views of Black-breasted Buzzard, White-necked Heron, flocks of Cockatiel and our first Australian Magpie of the trip at the Western Australian border. A final roadside stop before we made Kununurra produced several Diamond Dove, Zebra Finch and a couple of White-winged Trillers.

Some chilled lakeside birding late in the afternoon at Kununurra gave us our first White-browed Crakes, plus Dusky Moorhen, Whiskered Tern, Hardhead (White-eyed Duck), Wandering Whistling-duck, Torresian Imperial Pigeon and Crimson Finch. A lovely Gilbert’s Dragon was a nice diversion.

After a brilliant BBQ dinner and some good times we crashed, ready for an ultra-early start in order to make it to Lake Argyle by dawn…

Day 9, Saturday 29th June. Our last full day of the trip saw us on the road by 4:50am, hurtling towards Lake Argyle Village to meet our host for the cruise that was to take us out on the vast Lake Argyle for the day. The dawn sky was spectacular as we made our way on to the boat ramp, and in no time flat we were coursing our way over the glassy surface of the lake. We soon had Pied Cormorant, Great Crested Grebe, Eastern Osprey and Black-necked Stork under the belt, and at a strategically-chosen breakfast spot coffee & croissants were consumed whilst watching Pied Herons, Comb-crested Jacana and White-bellied Sea-eagles, seemingly at arm’s length, and our first Masked Woodswallows flew overhead.

Out on the edges of a large island birdlife was prolific, and the main target here, Yellow Chat, was quickly observed and appreciated with a gorgeous male sat perfectly in the spotting scope. Making our way around this island, redolent as it was with birdlife, we also had new species in the form of graceful Australian Pratincoles, Freckled Duck, Pink-eared Duck, a marauding Black Falcon, Red-kneed Dotterel, plus big numbers of Green Pygmy-goose, Red-capped Plover, Royal Spoonbill and Pied Stilt. Up to a dozen Australian Bustards were also out and about, and the sheer number of waterfowl and wading birds was a sight to behold.

As we made our way back in after a stupendous morning, we stopped at a few craggy outcrops and soon had brilliant views of a party of Short-eared Rock-wallaby. Nearby was another Sandstone Shrike-thrush, and finally a pair of the very range-restricted White-quilled Rock-pigeon sitting on a rock high up in their spinifex-adorned home. Not only was this a great bird to see but it was also a lifer for none other than Inala’s founder, Tonia Cochran herself. It was a fitting end to an unbelievable morning out.

Our lunchtime stop was punctuated by a gander at a local Great Bowerbird’s bower in the caravan park at Lake Argyle Village, festooned with such trinkets as blue clothes pegs, bottle tops and broken concrete…

Late afternoon saw us back at Kununurra and birding in the shade as the afternoon wore on, with Collared Sparrowhawk, Chestnut-breasted Mannikin and Australian White Ibis the more notable sightings, among others.

With another amazing dinner set out for us, we raised glasses to what had been a fantastic and successful trip, with 202 species seen and 4 heard only. 

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