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Dear Reader,

I am posting this to ask for your support of the longest running youth bird-a-thon team, and the team that I lead, the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings. The Point Blue Conservation Science Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon is currently underway, and the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings are looking forward to participating again this year!

This year, the team will be meeting up in-person on October 1st! We will crisscross Marin County in a fast-paced day rocketing from site to site and habitat to habitat in search of as many species as we can possibly find!

The 2021 Drake’s Beach Sanderlings members. Photo: Aaron N.K. Haiman

This event, and the Drake’s Beach Sanderling’s wild day, is a fundraiser for Point Blue Conservation Science. As such, I ask that if you have the means to please donate and support this amazing team of young birders (the longest running youth team that I know of!), and Point Blue.

By donating to this cause, you will be supporting the amazing work that Point Blue Conservation Science does around the world from climate research to habitat conservation to the effects of urbanizations on birds. Your donation will also support and encourage this group of young birders who represent a hope for the future of our planet that is badly needed. You can donate by following this link (also added at the end of this letter) and clicking the ‘donate’ button just to the right of the team photos.

My heart-felt thanks goes out to each person who contributes in support of this amazing cause.

Sanderlings Donation Page: https://pointblue.securesweet.com/teampage.asp?fundid=937#.Yyih2nbMI2w

#richstallcup #birdathon #countingforconservation

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Once a week, I am offering up a tip or action or idea that we can all engage with to help reduce waste, use less materials and energy, help conserve species or habitats, and/or generally work towards living in ways that allow for more health and wellbeing for all aspects of the planet.

This week the green thought is about windows and the danger they pose to birds. Birds often have a hard time seeing windows. When birds can see through an area, they think they can fly through that area. Especially if the window if reflecting the surrounding sky and vegetation, or if there is another window across the room making a passage through seem possible, birds may attempt to fly through and can collide with the window pane quite hard. Collisions with windows kill almost 1 billion birds a year just in the USA, so this is definitely a very big problem.

This diamond pattern of lines can help to prevent birds colliding with this window. Photo: Alexandra Smith

A bunch of solutions are out there. Window decals can work. These are basically stickers that are placed on a window pane so that birds will notice that a window is solid. However, to be effective, decals must be placed 2 to 4 inches apart. If they are spaced more widely, birds ma try and fly through the gaps. Patterns of lines or dots can be just as effective as other shapes such as bird or leaf silhouettes. Other solutions are to put screens in front of windows or to close curtains or blinds behind windows. Placing bird feeders near, or even attached to, windows also helps because the birds are more likely to see the window when it is close, and also will not be able to build up speed if they do fly into it.

What do you think of these thoughts and the solutions? Do you have any other solution ideas?

Thank you for visiting my blog! Please check back in next week for another Green Thought Thursday!

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For the third year, Black Birders Week is back! It is taking place this year from May 29th through June 4th.

In 2000, a birder approached a dog owner in Central Park, New York, NY to ask that the dog be put on a leash. At the outset, nothing seems odd about this, especially because the area these two people were in was an area where dogs were supposed to be on-leash. What happened next was absolutely insane, and you don’t have to take my word for it because the encounter was recorded and the video is available from several sources such as this one and this one.

What happened next is that the dog owner, who is a white woman, announces that she is going to call the police and tell them that she is being threatened by a black man. The birder was indeed a black man, but was doing nothing more threatening then asking the woman to obey the rules of Central Park. The woman then makes good on her threat, and calls the police. During the call, she becomes more and more strident as she repeatedly states that a black man is threatening both herself and her dog.

In response to this weaponization of race by a white woman against a black man, a group called Black AF in Stem came together with several black members of the birding community to launch the first Black Birders Week. After the success of that first event in 2000, the second Black Birders Week was held in 2021.

This year the theme for Black Birders Week will run from May 29th to June 4th, and the theme is “soaring to greater heights.” Each day of the week has a particular topic and accompanying hashtag: May 29 – #BlackInNature, May 30 – #InTheNest, May 31 – #LearningToTakeFlight, June 1 – #DayOfRoost, June 2 – #FlyingTheCoop, June 3 – #AsTheCrowFlies, and June 4 – #LifelongJourney. Other events such as bird walks, panel discussions, and more are also taking place. To learn more about the topics of each day and the other facets of the week check out the schedule website.

As a birder who is not black (I am a white guy), I get a great deal of value from attending the talks and other events of Black Birders Week. It gives me the chance to listen to people who have had very different experiences with birding and the great outdoors in general and to learn what they have seen and heard and the obstacles they have faced, and are continuing to face.

To all the birders who may read this who are black, I want you to know that your perspectives are valuable and there are many people who want to hear them. This is the type of event that gets richer and richer with each additional person who is willing to participate and share, and I hope that lots of black birders feel comfortable and encouraged to do so.

To all the birders who may read this who are not black (like me), I encourage all of you to attend at least some portion of Black Birders Week. Meet new people. Expand your circle of birding companions. Help make the birding community open, friendly, welcoming, and equitable!

And to absolutely everyone, I hope you enjoy #BlackBirdersWeek!

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About a year ago, we had a bit of an invasion in our yard. Rats, in ever growing numbers, were eating the birdseed from the feeders in our backyard (and also eating just about everything else they could find). So, to make the area less hospitable, we decided to take down the bird feeders and so remove the birdseed as a food source. Let me me tell you, I really missed having birds frequenting the yard to eat!

But it worked! We removed all the food sources we could find and trapped the rats like crazy for quite a while, and we have not seen a rat in a couple of months. So we, tentatively, refilled the bird feeders and rehung them in the yard.

Once the feeders were rehung, I was curious to see how long it would take for them to be rediscovered, and which species would be the first to notice and take advantage of this food source. For the first two days the feeders went ignored, but on the third day a flash of feathers dropped onto the pole that the feeders hang from.

It was an Oak Titmouse!

Oak Titmouse (Photo by Aaron N.K. Haiman)

The titmouse looked the feeders over from its perch on the top of the pole, and then flew off without dropping down to actually take a seed; its exit just and sudden and purposeful as its arrival. Just a few minutes later the flash of feathers appeared again, and once again there was an Oak Titmouse on the top of the pole. This time the titmouse did drop down to one of the feeders, grabbed a sunflower seed, and rapidly departed. A few minutes after that, the flash of feathers occurred once again, and again there was a titmouse on the pole. This time, it only paused there a moment before going for a seed, and while it did so, a different flash of feathers appeared! A second Oak Titmouse joined the first on the feeder, each bird took a sunflower seed, and both flew off. The two birds, very likely a mated pair, visited the feeder numerous more times that afternoon and evening.

Watching these birds appear to drop out of nowhere so suddenly is such fun! They are so filled with character and curiosity that watching them investigate the bird feeders and the rest of the surroundings is a constant source of entertainment, and they fly in so fast and with so little warning, and then leave so abruptly, that each flight coming or going is a surprise and gives me a thrill of excitement.

The Oak Titmouse pair has continued to be frequent visitors to the feeders. They have been joined, so far, by a handful of House Finches, a California Scrub-Jay, a pair of Mourning Doves, and a pair of Lesser Goldfinches.

It is hard to put into word just how happy I am to have birds back in the yard! I just hope the rats stay away.

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I have gotten a lot out of birding. Being a birder has brought me joy. It has brought me knowledge. It has eased my frustrations. It has gained me friends. It has built my career. I have gotten a lot out of birding.

And I think others should be able to get all these things and more out of birding as well. If there is a desire to learn about birds, the natural world, science, or any such topic, I think that everyone should have all the same opportunities open to them so that they can pursue those opportunities to whatever extent they like. These opportunities should not be limited by a person’s skin color, religion, nation of origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, ability, age, health concerns, or any other component of a person.

I have been trying to learn more about, and pay attention to, issues of privilege and the restrictions and complications that many people face when trying to experience nature, particularly relating to birding. One my aims is to learn how to make birding as welcoming an activity and community as possible to as wide a range if people as possible. As I have been exploring these ideas, I have come across several organizations, events, and other resources that I have found to be really interesting, educational, and useful. I know that I would have liked to have had information about these organizations, events, and other resources gathered together into one place, so I am doing exactly that here.

Below is a list of links to resources on a variety of topics, and aimed at a variety of groups, that deal with and help to overcome obstacles to enjoying, participating in, and learning about birds, nature, and science. This list is by no means complete. In the comments below, please let me know about other organizations, events, and other similar resources that you think should be included, and we can build this list together.

I hope that this list helps members of these communities find like minded groups and individuals. I also hope that this list helps allies of the members of these communities to learn, find additional ways to support them, and make birding an ever more welcoming activity and inclusive community.

Diversity in Birding Resource List:

Amplify the Future – Seeks to “amplify opportunities for equity to the historically excluded in conservation, STEAM, and birding.” This organization oversees the Black & Latinx Birders Scholarship which provides funds to “Black birders or Brown birders that lives in the United States or Puerto Rico and identify as Black, African-American, and/or Latinx/e/a/o; and who are also an undergraduate student studying in STEM.”

Birdability – Is an organization that, “through education, outreach and advocacy, Birdability works to ensure the birding community and the outdoors are welcoming, inclusive, safe and accessible for everybody. We focus on people with mobility challenges, blindness or low vision, chronic illness, intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental illness, and those who are neurodivergent, deaf or hard of hearing or who have other health concerns. In addition to current birders, we strive to introduce birding to people with disabilities and other health concerns who are not yet birders so they too can experience the joys of birding.” This organization also puts on Birdability Week each year in early October.

Birding For All – This organization is “a national voluntary organization seeking to improve access for people with disabilities to reserves, facilities and services for birding.”

Black AF in STEM Collective – This organization “seeks to support, uplift, and amplify Black STEM professionals in natural resources and the environment through professional development, career connection, and community engagement.” This organization puts Black Birders Week together at the end of May each year.

Freedom Birders – This is a project organized by Amplify the Future (see above) that “seeks to change the culture of bird watching in the United States by developing a racial justice curriculum and bird education project resourced by the lessons and inspiration of the Civil Rights Movement, the Freedom Riders, the Black Lives Matter Movement, the 1619 Project, and Black Birders Week 2020.”

Hispanic Access Foundation – This organization “connects Latinos and others with partners and opportunities to improve lives and create an equitable society. One day, every Latino individual in America will enjoy good physical health and a healthy natural environment, a high-quality education, economic success and civic engagement in their community with the sum of improving the future of America.” It also organizes Latino Conservation Week in July each year.

Latino Outdoors – This organization seeks to “inspire, connect, and engage Latino communities in the outdoors and embrace cultura y familia as part of the outdoor narrative, ensuring our history, heritage, and leadership are valued and represented.”

Let’s Go Birding Together – This is a series of bird walks and other event held in June in honor of Pride Month organized by the National Audubon Society which states that “walks are for everyone who loves birds and the outdoors. We welcome those who identify as LGBTQ, allies, families, and anyone who wants to enjoy an outdoor experience that is inclusive.”

Justice Outside – This organization “advances racial justice and equity in the outdoor and environmental movement. We shift resources to, build power with, and center the voices and leadership of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color because the health of current and future generations demands it.”

Outdoor Afro – This organization “has become the nation’s leading, cutting edge network that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature. We are a national not for profit organization with leadership networks around the country. With more than 100 leaders in 56 cities around the country, we connect thousands of people to nature experiences, who are changing the face of conservation.”

Unlikely Hikers – Is an Instagram community, a nationwide hiking group and a podcast that seeks to create a “diverse, anti-racist, body-liberating outdoor community featuring the underrepresented outdoorsperson.”

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The Point Blue Conservation Science Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon is back, as are the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings! Well, in some ways we never went away, but in 2020 the whole event was transformed into a virtual bird-a-thon with teams going out birding, but the team members birding in different locations due the inability to gather in groups because of COVID-19. Sanderlings members did participate in the event, and birded various sites in the bay area and West Sacramento.

But now that is over (hopefully). Teams will be able to meet again and head out to bird and raise funds for Point Blue Conservation Science.

As a member of the Bird-a-thon Steering Committee, I helped to organize the bird-a-thon and helped to choose the mascot bird this year: the Pine Siskin. We choose this species to highlight for a few reasons. One is that it is a generally underappreciated species. As you can see in the image above, the Pine Siskin is not an obviously flashy bird. But, to quote the new Hansen’s Field Guide to the Birds of the Sierra Nevada when noting that the perched bird can be on the drab side, “Taking flight, however, it changes from somber to eye-catching.” This striking change is due to the yellow patches in wing and tail that are generally concealed when at rest, but which flash dramatically when in flight. A second reason to highlight the Pine Siskin is that this species was hit hard by the salmonella outbreak in California that occurred in the winter and spring of 2021. This disease killed individuals of several finch species, but siskins seemed particularly susceptible. A third reason are the fires burning across California. The Pine Siskin is a finch that breeds in the conifer forests of North America. As such, they have lost a lot of breeding habitat in California this summer with so many fires burning through the conifer forests of the Sierra Nevada.

The Drake's Beach Sanderlings
The 2019 Drake’s Beach Sanderlings team standing on Drake’s Beach in Marin County.

So, in support of the Pine Siskin and the work of Point Blue Conservation Science, the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings are once again asking for your support when we head into the field to race across Marin County to find as many species as we possibly can in one day (September 26, this year). As usual, this will be a face-paced day of blazing from site to site to visit as many habitats as we can and find lots and lots of birds!

This event is a fundraiser for Point Blue, and as such, I ask that if you have the means please donate and support this amazing team of young birders (the longest running youth team that I have ever heard of!), and Point Blue. By donating this cause, you will be supporting climate research that is badly needed, and also supporting and encouraging young birders who represent a hope for the future of our planet that is also badly needed. You can donate by following this link and clicking the ‘donate’ button just to the right of the team photos.

My heart-felt thanks goes out to each person who contributes in support of this amazing cause.

#richstallcup #birdathon #birds #conservation

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Sometimes three nights spent in the woods are more restorative and satisfying than even I expect them to be.

And that is exactly the experience I had camping at the Silver Fork Campground on the banks of the Silver Fork of the American River in the El Dorado National Forest. I have camped in this area before, but never at this specific campground, and it was lovely. The campground was quiet and clean. The river was close and beautiful. The forest was impressive. And the birds were thrilling!

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And the river itself was wonderful as well. The water was the perfect temperature for wading and swimming which was so refreshing in the heat of the afternoon. Not only were there dippers and the merganser to watch, but there were lots of different butterfly species coming down to drink and get some salts from the sandy shore, and also a huge variety of macroinvertebrates in the water. There were so many stonefly larva crawling around on the bottom with their carefully constructed tiny hard tubes made from tiny sticks and stones.

With the beauty of the forests, the amazing wildlife to see, cooking over the fire, and sharing the whole experience with family and friends, this was a wonderful trip. I was aware that I really missed camping in 2020, but in a lot of ways I am fully realizing just how much I missed it now that I am camping once again! Being in the woods, getting to see and smell and hear the natural world around me, and getting to share it with you both here and on my YouTube channel (there will be a couple of videos coming out in the next few weeks) made me happier and more tranquil and excited than I have been for a while! I can’t wait until my next trip!

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List of Bird Species Observed:

Common Merganser

Common Nighthawk

Anna’s Hummingbird

Turkey Vulture

Belted Kingfisher

White-headed Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

Pacific-slope Flycatcher

Black Phoebe

Steller’s Jay

Common Raven

Mountain Chickadee

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Red-breasted Nutchatch

Brown Creeper

American Dipper

Townsend’s Solitaire

American Robin

American Goldfinch

Dark-eyed Junco

Spotted Towhee

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Hermit Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

Western Tanager

List of Other Species Observed (incomplete):

Western Tiger Swallowtail

Pale Tiger Swallowtail

Blue Copper

Lorquin’s Admeral

Sierra Nevada Checkerspot

Stonefly

Cadis Fly

Yellowjacket

Pacific Clubtail

Kibramoa madrona

Western Fence Lizard

Rainbow Trout

Douglas’s Squirrel

California Groundsquirrel

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I spent last weekend in the wonderful little town of Bolinas, CA. This special spot on the California Coast a relatively short drive north of San Francisco is a quite and quirky and very laid back. It is also right on the shore of the Pacific Ocean and Bolinas Lagoon and as such it provides access to a bunch of coastal and aquatic habitats, and I took advantage of this positioning to do a lot of birding!

Wildlife photographer captures osprey carrying shark, carrying fish in  'one-in-a-trillion photograph' | Fox News
Osprey carrying a fish. Photo Credit: Fox News

One morning, I went out to the beach to see what coastal and ocean birds I might spot and to do a bit of beach combing while I was at it. The sky was gray over the ocean, but not foggy. The tide was low and it was fun to spend a little time looking at washed up kelp, finding Sand Crabs as the waves broke on the shore, and looking out to sea at the rolling ocean. I was also enjoying watching the Western Grebes and Clark’s Grebes fishing off shore, the Double-crested Cormorants flying back and forth, and the Brown Pelicans cruising above the waves when I heard a bit of a commotion overhead. I looked up to see three birds chasing each other around in a mid-air tangle. One bird was an Osprey with a fish in its talons. The second bird was an adult Western Gull trying to steal that fish. The third bird was an adult Bald Eagle also trying to rob the Osprey! All three birds were engaged in some fancy flying over the waves as they attempted to secure their breakfast as the sun rose above the tree topped hills.

Sound Library - Bald Eagle - Yellowstone National Park (U.S. National Park  Service)
Adult Bald Eagle. Photo Credit: National Park Service

The tangle of birds did not last long. The Osprey was ultimately successful at defending its catch from the two would-be thieves and flew off to enjoy its meal. The gull quickly disappeared to forage elsewhere, but the eagle stuck around for a little while. It circled out over the Pacific for a couple of minutes, and watching for so long was a real treat for me. It then turned toward shore, dropped altitude, and flew along the beach. As it spread its huge wings about 50 feet over the sand, it flew slowly over beach goers and surfers. None of whom noticed at all! The humans were all absorbed in their own activities and did not realize that an enormous, not to mention iconic, bird was cursing right over their heads. I suppose that I should not have been surprised by this lack notice, and to a certain extent I wasn’t, but it was definitely amusing.

The Bald Eagle continued flying smoothly down the beach until it followed the bending line of the sand around a bluff and out of sight, and I continued my morning of beach exploration. It was a lovely morning that I enjoyed very much, and I hope you get out for some time on the coast as well.

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I have been thinking and writing about changing the names of birds for a little while now. Particularly, I am talking about the birds that have been named after people. In fact, an article I wrote on this subject set off a series of interactions between me and a publisher that led me to withdraw my support and contributions to several magazines that I had been writing for for years. If you want to read about that story, it starts here.

I think that the names of birds that have been named after people should be changed for a few reasons. One is that these names ignore the names used by indigenous peoples for these birds. Another is that the people for whom birds are named represent very little diversity. And an additional reason is that the people who have had birds named after them include some distinctly shady characters (racists, frauds, etc.). Allow to elaborate.

Bachman's Sparrow Songs and Calls - Larkwire
Adult Bachman’s Sparrow

One reason why the current bird names are a problem is that the idea of a (generally) European individual coming across a bird, figuring it is a new species to the scientific world, and naming it according to that European’s preference ignores the indigenous recognition of that species. Indigenous peoples have recognized, and named, the birds around them for thousands of years, but these names have been largely ignored when establishing modern bird names. In the scientific community, there are general rules for naming species and one of those rules is that the name first applied to a species is the one that gets used. What this means is that if one person in England and one person in Germany (as representative examples) both separately identify and name the same species, the name that is officially adopted is the one used by whoever named it first. So using this standard, names applied earlier by indigenous peoples around the world should have priority over names applied later by European explorers. The fact that they have not been is a product of the very Eurocentric nature of the science and age of exploration in the 1700s and 1800s, and it should be changed. All peoples from around the world should be represented and included in the choosing of species names. No one group should have control of this process.

Another reason why current bird names are a problem is that most of the people who birds have been named after, and that are recognized today, have been straight white men. This is largely a product of the fact that most of the people doing the naming of birds that are recognized today have also been straight white men. If you look in a bird book today, you will see few-to-no birds named after women, few-to-no birds named after people of color, and few-to-no birds named after members of the LGBTQIA+ community. This is racist and sexist and should be changed. If people are going to be recognized with the honor of having a bird bear their name, there is no reason why those people should all come from a small and narrow subset of humanity. There have been many women, many people of color, and many members of the LGBTQIA+ community who have contributed to to our understanding of birds and who could be honored by naming a bird after them.

Featured Birds: Baltimore and Bullock's Orioles
A male Bullock’s Oriole.

A third reason why current bird names are a problem is that some of the people whom birds have been named after don’t really deserve the honor. Some people were slave owners such as John Bachman (Bachman’s Sparrow) who also wrote of the inherent inferiority of black people. Some people were dramatically unpatriotic such as John Porter McCowan (McCowan’s Longspur) who was a confederate general who fought to destroy the United States of America. Some people desecrated the sacred sites of indigenous peoples such as John Kirk Townsend (Townsend’s Warbler and Townsend’s Solitaire) who dug up the graves of Native American men, women, and children and sent their heads to various collectors and pseudoscientists. And some people were con artists such as William Bullock (Bullock’s Oriole) who owned and curated a natural history museum that included specimens intentionally faked to attract publicity. These are people whom I do not think are worthy of being honored by having a bird named after them, but because they had money, friends, and connections we now frequently speak their names (I watched a lovely Bullock’s Oriole just a couple of days ago).

Some things are starting to change. For example, the name of the McCowan’s Longspur has been changed to the Thick-billed Longspur in light if the racist and unpatriotic actions of the confederate general. But far more needs to change in order to make the culture and community of birding as open and inclusive as it should be. A current movement is forming with the idea of changing the name of all birds that are named after people to names that are more descriptive of their natural history. This idea points out that the name Bendire’s Thrasher does not provide any useful information about the bird itself; however, Blue Grosbeak does provide some useful information (namely, that it is blue). Changing the names of all birds that are currently named after people also side-steps the problem of deciding who is and who is not worthy of having a bird named after them. Society’s morals are constantly changing, and so attempting to reinterpret past figures according to modern standards is, and will continue to be, difficult. Instead, we can make the names far more lasting and useful if we simply change the currently used names, and end the practice of naming species after people.

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I recently learned about a scholarship intended to increase diversity in the birding community. It is called the Black and Latinx Birders Scholarship, and it is run by an organization called Amplify the Future. This scholarship was founded in 2020 and seeks to amplify the successes of Black Birders and Latinx Birders by raising funds for annual scholarships and creating networks of support. This year, the American Bird Conservancy is partnering with Amplify the Future to match all donations to this scholarship up to $10,000!

Amplify The Future | LinkedIn

The website provides this information about the scholarship: “Through the Black and Latinx Birders Scholarship, we the committee seek to increase the number of Black Birders and Latinx Birders studying in STEM. Scholarship awards range from a minimum of $2,500 to a maximum of $5,000, depending on funding for the current year. The application period for the 2021-2022 school year will open February 2021. The deadline for application submissions is June 18, 2021.”

The website also has more information on eligibility, how to apply, etc.

So, go check out this great opportunity, pass it along to others who might be interested, and help support diversity in the birding community!

Thanks for visiting my blog. If you are interested in other ways to connect with me, here are a couple of options:

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