MILITARY MACAW SANCTUARY

MILITARY MACAW SANCTUARY

Birds to watch 82

Carretara 200, Costera a Barra de Navidad Km 30

Come along with Birding in Mexico as we take to the pine-clad highlands of Cabo Corrientes to experience the primordial sights and sounds of wild Military Macaws—up close and personal, flying wild and free, as well as nesting—seen from a brand new 15 m / 49’ observation tower and nearby nest box observation blind! Later in the morning visit Vallarta Botanic Garden in time to watch entertaining flurries of colorful tropical birds attracted to their established bird feeding station, followed by lunch at the Garden’s fine Hacienda del Oro Restaurant!

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Overview

Itinerary

Bird List

Gallery

FAQ

Location & destiny


- Popularity of this tour: This tour is very popular with birding day trippers from Puerto Vallarta,  especially those wanting to see and support conservation in action where Vallarta’s endangered Military Macaws and other indigenous, endemic and migratory birds are concerned.  The trip combines a visit to Rancho Santuario (aka The Military Macaw Sanctuary) combined with a call on world renowned Vallarta Botanic Garden, boosting the day’s potential species encounters from 82 at the Sanctuary to 272 species or more at Vallarta Botanic Garden!

- Short description: 

BIM participants will have the fortuitous opportunity to visit a private rancho turned grassroots conservation area for the endangered Military Macaw—the only one of its kind in the world — replete with both natural and artificial nesting boxes designed by Jorge Novoa of Las Juntas y Los Veranos—nestled in the refreshing, pine-clad highlands of Cabo Corrientes. 

Once we arrive at the parking area for the Sanctuary, we will be welcomed by the friendly warden, Francisco Espino, then, after enjoying some breakfast snacks, we’ll set off on a 200 m walk on the Sanctuary’s well-maintained, gravely trail to reach a spectacular, new, 15 m / 49’ MACAW OBSERVATION TOWER and another 100 m further on, an amazing  MACAW OBSERVATION BLIND overlooking half a dozen nest boxes.  The almost incomprehensible, once in a lifetime sight of several pairs of wild Military Macaws (in flight and perched in plain site) is the rule not the exception here!  Have your cameras at the ready!

The prevailing habitat and elevation (617 m / 2025’) here is quite different from that of hot and sultry Puerto Vallarta.  

Enjoy the refreshing springtime climate and gentle breezes while birding among the pines and oaks, as you watch for nesting Military Macaws and highland birds like resident Greater Pewee, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Gray-collared Becard, Brown-backed Solitaire, Grace’s and Rufous-capped warblers; endemic Lilac-crowned Parrot, Colima Pygmy-Owl and Golden Vireo; in addition to migratory Painted Redstart, Black-throated Gray and Wilson’s warblers, etc., in season! 

For a full list of birds recorded at the Military Macaw Sanctuary please press here

*Through your participation, Birding in Mexico will make a generous contribution to the Sanctuary, in keeping with our dedication to conservation through ecotourism.  Thank you for making this possible!

This trip does not stop after our visit to the Military Macaw Sanctuary  Not by a long shot!

Rather, it does double duty by also visiting The world-renowned Vallarta Botanic Garden, which was started by Texas native Bob Price in 2004.  

Once a degraded scrape on a hillside in Cabo Corrientes, the now lushly foliated and welcoming Jardín Botánico Vallarta (Vallarta Botanic Garden) is a keystone natural landmark in Cabo Corrientes and a must see destination for any visitor to Puerto Vallarta and the Riviera Nayarit!

Please realize that BIM offers full and half day birding options at VBG.  The full day option also visits The Military Macaw Sanctuary.  The difference is that the current tour focuses more intently on viewing the Military Macaws and sympatric birds of Cabo Corrientes’ upland habitats, while the VBG trip focuses most of its interest on the Garden and birds inhabiting its middle-elevation habitats. 

Whichever you choose, you’ll be glad to know that according to the Garden’s monthly periodical, El Papelillo / The Leaflet — VBG is one of North America's premier botanic gardens—now designated among the “Top 10 North American Gardens Worth Traveling For" by the North American Garden Tourism Conference (a program managed by the Canadian Garden Council), on this half day Birding in Mexico excursion!

Highlight birds are those inhabiting the interface between three biomes at VBG—the upper edge of the Sinaloan Thorn Forest, lower Encinal (Pine-Oak Woodland) and Riparian ecosystems associated with the still wild Rio Los Horcones which bisects this keystone wildlife sanctuary in Cabo Corrientes.  There are plans for the Garden to expand its preserve by 50% by 2021.

Seasonally common birds here include West Mexican Chachalaca, Golden-cheeked Woodpecker, Russet-crowned Motmot, Plain-capped Starthroat, Violet-crowned and Broad-billed hummingbirds, San Blas and Green jays, Ferruginous and Colima pygmy-owls, White-throated Thrush, Yellow-winged Cacique, Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow, Rosy Thrush-Tanager and now Military Macaws have been documented occupying nest boxes strategically placed for them on natural pines at the highest extremities of the property! 

Even Black-and-White and Black hawk-eagles have been definitively identified soaring over the property, and camera traps have documented wild Jaguars mere kilometers away on the Rio Los Horcones!

To see a full listing of VBG’s rich birding potentialities, organized by habitat and seasonality, please press here

*Through your participation and entrance fees generated, BIM will make a generous contribution  to the Vallarta Botanic Garden through your entrance fees, to help both keep up their good conservation work in Cabo Corrientes!  Thank you!

Itinerary

Click on each activity to see more details

  • Diamond 1

    Private Pickup

    at 6:30a.m. sharp in Puerto Vallarta!

    Birding in Mexico (BIM) will cheerfully pick you up at either your hotel or a prearranged meeting point—usually the parking lot for Walmart / Sam’s Club off of Francisco Medina Ascencio—near the Liverpool Galleria across from the cruise ship terminal—then whisk you away to begin your wonderful birding adventure in paradise.  

    *Timings are approximate.  Please be punctual.  Casual window birding en route between each destination.  We may vary the order of places visited during this itinerary, depending on seasonality, tips from our regional birding friends and exciting discoveries from recent BIM Rancho Sanctuario / VBG outings.

  • Diamond 2

    Driving time between Vallarta and Today’s BIM Hotspot—The Military Macaw Sanctuary / Rancho Sanctuario—with brief stops at Los Arcos National Park and the Canyon of the Rio Los Horcones en route (41 kms / 60 minutes)

    6:30a.m.-7:30a.m.

    After your private pickup utilizing a modern, high quality, air conditioned vehicle, we will follow coastal Highway #200 south from Vallarta, traveling through a beautiful array of still largely intact habitats.  We transit extensive deciduous Sinaloan Thorn Forest in the coastal lowlands—where the highway borders the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, passing by a small chain of islands known as Los Arcos National Park and Marine Reserve, where Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird, Blue-footed and Brown boobies, and Gray-breasted Martins may easily be seen—to reach Boca Tomatlan, located at the mouth of the Rio Los Horcones.  

    Prioritizing the macaws, we will take the time to stop and scan for these and other interesting birds in the morning or on our way back this afternoon.

    From Boca Tomatlan, the highway turns inland and ascends the dramatic canyon of the Rio Los Horcones, grading from thorn forest to montane tropical forest and finally encinal (pine-oak woodland).  

    During our early morning drive through the gorge of the Rio Los Horcones, we can safely pull aside at a strategic turnoff to look for a haze of White-collared Swifts swirling above the highway in the crepuscular twilight, as our transit coincides with their early a.m. activities as they leave their roost site deep in the canyon each morning.  

    Military Macaws and Lilac-crowned Parrots are also possible overhead sights while driving this route, so we will listen for and keep an eye out for their silhouettes in the sky while scanning for swifts as we ascend the grade.

    This river is one of the only unobstructed, still naturally flowing rivers remaining locally—though this status is now threatened by a planned dam.  The small community of Las Juntas y Los Veranos sits atop this canyon and the Vallarta Botanic Garden lies a few kilometers beyond.  

    Rancho Sanctuario is 10 kms farther beyond the Garden, and is nestled 5 kilometers to the southwest of the paved highway in the still wild highlands of Cabo Corrientes, as accessed by an unpaved but drivable mountain track.  Getting there is half the adventure!   

  • Diamond 3

    Arrival, Breakfast Snacks and Comfort Stop at the first of today’s two BIM Hotspots—The Military Macaw Sanctuary / Rancho Santuario

    7:30-10:30a.m

    Complimentary breakfast snacks will be provided to boost your energy levels before setting out on the trail to reach the new Macaw Observation Tower.  Restrooms are available, as well.

    Usually our “continental breakfast” consists of yogurt, fruit, juices, granola bars and other nutritious options.  Cold, bottled fresh water and a selection of soft drinks — including diet alternatives — are also readily on tap.  Supplies are limited.  We apologize if your preferred flavor is not available.

    Following continental breakfast we will bird our way to the new Macaw Observation Tower (200 m approximately) then continue toward the spacious observation blind / viewing-platform overlooking half a dozen seasonally occupied Military Macaw nest boxes! 

    Our priority for our up to three hour stay on the reserve will be to observe and photograph the majestic macaws, while also keeping an eye out for other highland birds here.

    To see a full list of the birding possibilities, please press here

    Restrooms are available on site at Rancho Sanctuario, both near the parking area and adjacent to the 15 m / 49’ observation blind. 

    *Approximate total trail walking distance is less than 1 kilometer, and ranges from easy to moderate.  The pace is relaxed.

  • Diamond 4

    Enjoy Lunch at Restaurant Hacienda del Oro, a Comfort Stop, and Independent Exploration of VBG before heading back to Vallarta, birding en route:

    11:30a.m.-1:15p.m.

    After enjoying VBG’s entertaining bird feeding station, our appetites whetted from the birding excitement of the morning, we have the fantastic option of having lunch and refreshments at VBG’s open-air Hacienda del Oro Restaurant, replete with several active hummingbird feeders hanging from its eves, while taking in a majestic view of the Preserve’s verdant hillsides and canyon of the Rio Los Horcones below us, as we compile our checklist for the day.

    Plain-capped Starthroat, Broad-billed, Ruby-throated and Violet-crowned hummingbirds are the most common seasonal regulars at VBG’s hummingbird feeders.

    12:30p.m.-1:15p.m.—After lunch, you can enjoy 45 minutes of independent exploration while exploring VBG’s cultivated plantings, their Holstein Tropical Plant House, Orchid, Cactus and Bromeliad Houses, etc., before we reconvene.

  • Diamond 5

    Repatriation to your Hotel, Pickup Point or Home (39 kms / 60 mins):

    1:15p.m.-2:15p.m

    Upon completion of todays Birding in Mexico adventure, each participant will be cordially returned to their original pickup point, with pleasure, and it is our sincere hope that you’ll return to that point very pleased and richer for today’s BIM experience Rancho Santuario at BVG.  

Bird Watch List

** The number of birds per trip may change


To better prepare for the adventure that awaits you, please study the following lists:   

Some of the region’s star birds, stratified below according to habitats, endemism and seasonality:  

1. Military Macaw Sanctuary at Rancho Sanctuario: 

  • a Resident Neotropical Species: White-tipped Dove; Squirrel Cuckoo; Common Black and Gray hawks; Elegant Trogon; Russet-crowned Motmot; Orange-fronted Parakeet and Military Macaw; Ivory-billed Woodpecker; Masked Tityra, Gray-collared and Rose-throated becards; Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, Greenish Elaenia, Greater Pewee, Bright-rumped Attila, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Boat-billed Flycatcher and Thick-billed Kingbird; Green Jay; Brown-backed Solitaire and White-throated Thrush;  Scrub (Goldman’s) Euphonia; Yellow-winged Cacique and Streak-backed Oriole; Grace’s and Rufous-capped warblers; and Yellow Grosbeak, etc. 
  • b.  Mexican Endemics: West Mexican Chachalaca; Lilac-crowned Parrot; Colima Pygmy-Owl; Golden Vireo; San Blas Jay; Happy Wren; , etc. 
  • c.  Migratory species, winter:  Pacific-slope Flycatcher;  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher; Black-and-White, Nashville, Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s), Yellow-throated, Black-throated Gray, and Wilson’s warblers and Painted Redstart; Summer Tanager, etc. 

 

d.  Miscellaneous species of interest:  Common Raven.

2.  Vallarta Botanic Garden: 

  • a Resident Neotropical Species:  Thicket Tinamou; Crested Guan; Red-billed Pigeon,  Inca, White-winged and White-tipped doves; Groove-billed Ani and Squirrel Cuckoo; White-collared and Vaux’s swifts; Plain-capped Starthroat, Broad-billed, Violet-crowned, Berylline and Cinnamon hummingbirds; Black Hawk-Eagle, Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle, Great Black Hawk, Gray, Short-tailed and Zone-tailed hawks; Russet-crowned Motmot; Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl; Green Kingfisher; Acorn Woodpecker; Pale-billed and Lineated woodpeckers; Collared Forest-Falcon and Laughing Falcon; Orange-fronted Parakeet and Military Macaw; Ivory-billed Woodcreeper; Masked Tityra, Rose-throated Becard, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, Greenish Elaenia, Greater Pewee, Black Phoebe, Nutting’s, Boat-billed and Social flycatchers; Great Kiskadee, Tropical and Thick-billed Kingbirds; Green Jay; White-throated Thrush; Scrub (Goldman’s) Euphonia; Rosy Thrush-Tanager; Stripe-headed Sparrow; Yellow-winged Cacique, Black-vented and Streak-backed orioles; Fan-tailed Warbler; Blue and Varied buntings; and Grayish Saltator, etc. 
  • b.  Mexican Endemics:  West Mexican Chachalaca; Mexican Hermit, Golden-crowned Emerald and Mexican Woodnymph; Colima Pygmy-Owl; Golden-cheeked and Gray-crowned woodpeckers; Lilac-crowned Parrot; Golden Vireo;  San Blas Jay; Happy and Sinaloa wrens; Blue Mockingbird; Rufous-backed Robin; Black-headed Siskin; Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow; Cinnamon-rumped Seedeater, etc. 
  • c.  Migratory species, winter:  Ruby-throated Hummingbird; Belted Kingfisher; Least and Pacific-slope Flycatchers; Black-capped, Bell’s, Plumbeous and Warbling vireos; Northern Rough-winged Swallow; Blue-gray Gnatcatcher; Swainson’s Thrush; Yellow-breasted Chat; Louisiana and Northern waterthrushes, Black-and-White, Nashville, MacGillivray’s warblers, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Yellow and Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s) warblers, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and Wilson’s Warbler; Summer and Western tanagers; Blue Grosbeak, Lazuli, Indigo and Painted buntings, etc.
  • d.  Migratory species, summer: Brown-crested Flycatcher; Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher; Yellow-green Vireo, etc. 

1.  Rancho El Santuario (81 species):https://ebird.org/printableList?regionCode=L8782744&yr=all&m=

2.  Jardín Botánico Vallarta (Vallarta Botanic Garden—272 species):https://ebird.org/printableList?regionCode=L2170742&yr=all&m=

Faq

Click on each question to see more details

  • Diamond 1

    Recommended footwear for today’s excursion?

    All-terrain shoes with ankle support are generally recommended for today’s outing; tennis shoes are also acceptable—especially in the lowlands—if you do not have high-top footwear.  We highly recommend the former due to possibly rough, rutted, rocky or slippery (fine gravel on the 300 m trail between the parking area and Military Macaw blind and viewpoint on the sanctuary) surfaces we may encounter while away from the vehicle.  Walking conditions may vary, and are dependent on recent weather conditions.  

  • Diamond 2

    What kind and Color of Clothes should I Wear?

    Lightweight clothing—especially light weight slacks—with neutral or earth tone colors (no bright colors or whites please, as they may alert the area’s shy, sharp-eyed birds to our presence, who they may fly away prematurely without giving us reasonably close or prolonged looks, which would be a shame).  Short sleeve shirts are fine. 

    Please also don a hat or cap with a visor or brim (again, no bright colors or whites), to avoid glare, water reflections and sunburn.

    We discourage your wearing of shorts, skirts, bathing attire, or cutoff shirts that expose the mid-rift while on hikes or other outings due to the possible presence of biting insects and to avoid injuries if you stumble.   

    Weather—especially during the summer Monsoon season—is variable according to altitude. We may visit varying habitats and elevations on this excursion, ranging form Sea Level to 373 m / 1225’ at VBG and 617 m / 2025’ at Rancho Sanctuario. 

    Tropical weather is unpredictable at best, so be prepared for any contingency, knowing that at any time of year the weather can turn surprisingly wicked.  Please carry a light duty windbreaker and a fleece to provide comfort during a sudden downpour, and warmth during our mornings at altitude, especially during the summer monsoon season.  Cold fog may occur at the Military Macaw Sanctuary, as well, which is another reason to bring a light weight fleece with you on this excursion.  Better safe than sorry!

  • Diamond 3

    Sun Protection?

    YES.  Puerto Vallarta, its beaches and surrounding highlands are famous for their clear skies and sunny conditions.  This is the “tropical sun” however, so those unaccustomed, beware!  We will often be exposed to direct sunlight throughout most of the trip, except while riding in the vehicle, viewing the macaws from a special blind / viewing station in addition we will have cover while watching birds coming to the bird feeding station at VBG, and eating at Restaurant La Hacienda de Oro (VBG).  

    We recommended using sun screen with a minimum Sun Protection Factor of 30 (preferably 50 SPF or higher for lighter complexions) on your face and other exposed skin surfaces to avoiding sunburns, especially in the coastal environments we will be visiting by foot or vehicle.

  • Diamond 4

    Insect Repellent?

    YES.  Jejenes or “no-see-ums” are a possibility during still mornings, especially during the wet season, but mosquitos are not too much of a problem during the dry season (November-May).  

    Insect repellents containing DEET will vastly improve your outdoor comfort on this expedition.  

    Biting insects can seem almost absent on most of our regional expeditions, and for most of the daylight hours, but can appear unexpectedly, so be prepared by arming yourself with both knowledge and technology.  

    To be sure to avoid being bitten by black flies (i.e., “Jejenes" or “No-See-Ums”) or Mosquitoes, we recommended that you carry repellent with DEET as its active ingredient, applying it liberally on an impromptu basis to counter these blood suckers, while spraying your pant cuffs and socks for chiggers before every outing, regardless of the season.

    You’ll be glad you did, especially during the wet season (June-October)!

    Where chiggers are concerned—chiggers like and are spread by livestock—and livestock may be present in our area of coverage (but not at VBG).  You may not even realize you’ve been bitten until 12-24 hours after exposure if you do not preempt by spraying your socks, shoes and pant cuffs; if you don’t and you are bitten (painless and unseen at first) it will be too late and the resultant delayed itching can be formidable. 

    Thankfully, chiggers are harmless and it’s easy to avoid chigger bites by applying repellents containing DEET, and spraying them liberally, as suggested, onto your pant cuffs, socks and shoes before every outing, regardless of the season.

    We recommend a repellent that is sprayable via a non-aerosol propellent, since the pump style repellents may leak inside your daypack, potentially ruining your food, camera gear, or other often expensive equipment carried.  Roll-on-style repellents do not efficiently cover your skin’s surface, nor your pant cuffs or socks, so you are discouraged from using them in favor of a propelled spray.

  • Diamond 5

    Bring your Camera Gear and Binoculars

    It is assumed you have your own binoculars, as this is requisite to fully enjoy our outings!

    If you are also an avid bird and / or wildlife photographer, BIM offers select Bird Photography Expeditions with world renowned photographer, writer, lecturer and bird tour leader Greg R. Homel, throughout Mexico… and the world, for that matter. 

    Please inquire if you are interested in learning more about our bird and wildlife photography-oriented expeditions, or take a look at our website.   

    Our day trips—unless otherwise specified as bird photography-centric—are focused on birding specifically, and photography as an exciting sidebar.  

    It goes without saying that once in a lifetime opportunities exist to photograph wild Military Macaws—in flight and perched or at their nest sites—sometimes at remarkably close range!  So bring your cameras if you have one!

    Vallarta Botanic Garden has scheduled feeding times for its bird feeder site, which provides equally excellent opportunities for bird photographers to photograph many normally furtive or canopy species with ease and below eye-level at its feeders.  

    Regardless of the venue, all tour participants should consider themselves encouraged to bring their cameras and practice this enjoyable pastime during any excursion.  

    Recommended equipment should include digital cameras with telephoto lenses equal to the equivalent of at least 400 mm or greater (in 35 mm terms) for your bird photography efforts to be worthwhile in the first place.  Bird photography tours aside, tripods are not recommended, since it’s reasonable to assume they may interfere with other participants’ freedom of mobility and our logistics.  

    Most modern lenses and many of today’s cameras are equipped with motion countering technology, anyway, making a tripod unnecessary under the conditions we will be operating within.

    Please don’t forget to bring extra batteries and memory cards specific to your camera brand, as well.  

    Lens tissue should also be considered requisite to keep your lenses clean or to wipe incidental water or sea spray off of their (and your binoculars’) objective elements, as environmental conditions are unpredictable in the often wild regions we will be visiting.  If you do not have “lens cleaning tissues," don’t fret—in a pinch normal, one ply, unscented, napkins or toilet paper will work just as well as expensive lens tissue. 

    *Please inquire about loaner binoculars if you or one of your party does not have binoculars but would like to partake in this excursion.  We may have one or two available, free of charge, to lend you.  Apologies in advance if the loan binoculars are already claimed or unavailable for this tour.

  • Diamond 6

    What is this Expedition’s Level of Physical Difficulty?

    Walking conditions here range from EASY (primarily) to MODERATE throughout the excursion.

    Visitors on this lovely excursion will generally encounter easily negotiable trails and foot paths at both The Military Macaw Sanctuary and VBG (some, steep with ruts, gravel or rocky stretches, wet or muddy conditions, depending on recent weather) near the VBG Visitor’s Center and the main botanical exhibits, grading to more moderately challenging walks along the Senderos Rio, Ficus and Jaguar (River, Fig and Jaguar Trails), etc.

    You should be prepared for any contingency with good cheer and a spirit of adventure, while being aware that if you have to answer the call of nature when we are far from facilities, you may be relegated to using what we affectionately call the “green latrine.”    

    There is up to a  600 m / 1968’ potential altitudinal gain on this excursion so you should be prepared for this, though our vehicle will be doing most or all of the “climbing” and overland travel for you.  

    Trails in the core section of Vallarta Botanic Garden are partially Wheelchair Accessible.  They are not at the Military Macaw Sanctuary.

    *Please inquire with us as to the potentialities for handicapped participants.

    If possible, we tend to adjust our walking pace to match the physical capabilities of each group.

    In the event that two leaders will accompany your group (which is not guaranteed), it is possible that we will split the group to accommodate clients of varying athletic capabilities.  

    If you have specific concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us in advance of your trip and we will do our best to provide you with accurate information pertinent to your specific needs, while advising you whether or not you would gain commensurately from the excursion you are contemplating. 

  • Diamond 7

    What is Included on my Tour?

    • • All Birding in Mexico excursions include one or more specialized, Government-certified (applicable to Alejandro Martinez, a Mexican Citizen, or other Mexican guides), bilingual guide(s) 
    • • Your guide(s) will carry their own private binoculars at all times during the tour, and where productive, a high quality spotting scope, as well 
    • • Complimentary Birding in Mexico checklists specific to the region will be handed out at your pickup point and an excellent regional field guide authored by Greg R. Homel will be offered for sale 
    • • Breakfast-snacks are included 
    • • Throughout this tour, all Rancho Sanctuario and Vallarta Botanic Garden and other entrance fees, complimentary snacks, fruit, purified water, and soft drinks are provided with pleasure, as is lunch, if specified in the itinerary
    • • Private ground transportation with pickup and drop-off between Puerto Vallarta and all birding destinations is also included
    • • For your safety and wellbeing a First aid kit is carried on all Birding in Mexico excursions
    • • If you are not a Mexican Citizen, please carry a valid copy of or your actual Passport (or Passport Card) on all Birding in Mexico excursions, since occasional government or military  “Puestos” (road checks) may be encountered and require this.
    • Mexican Citizens should have a valid government-issued identification with them, as well  
    • Also it is wise to bring sufficient cash and your ATM card (please know your PIN), to cover unexpected expenses in the event of an emergency

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