A Monkey for a Redstart

Well, that was a quite wonderful and exceptionally surreal day.
I picked up Er Neill at 8am, and we met Paul Herrieven in a cold plastic Sunday morning Maccas at 9am on the Fylde.
Sweated as we waited, then drove round to the remains of Blackpool Airport but there was no news of the American Redstart on Barra (yes, you read correctly, we popped up to Barra in the Outer Hebrides today).
Neill had done all the preliminary, sorting the plane, pilot and timings beforehand, but when it came down to it, all we could do was wait for news of the bird, go home or take off…
We decided to fly up anyway…we were all too excited to back out of the booking now.

I was however, a tad disappointed to learn that our “cost shared” flight for the day was going to be in the Piper Cherokee on the right, not the grand old Lancaster behind it, but I guess the latter probably wouldn’t fit onto the beach at Barra.
We had crossed the rubicon and with no news of the mega from the island either way still, we prepared for take-off at 10.35am.
Chocks away!!!!
Our pilot was the excellent Adrian, who took us north past incoming skeins of Pink Feet, dropping out of the clouds to refuel at Oban before pushing west.
Always like a driver with a map (or a good i-Pad navigation app).
But how hard can an island be to find with that dirty great blue circle over it?

A sneaky check of the phone had revealed the bird was still there (how did that flight setting switch itself off???) vindicating this bizarre journey north.
We had to pause at Oban for a spot of negotiation before we had permission to land at Barra, but we were back up in the air again by just after 1pm.
Paul helpfully pointed out the gleaming white sands of the beach aka Barra International Airport after a stunning flight over the west of Scotland and numerous Hebrides.
Pods of dolphins had breached in a cobalt blue calm sea below us as we neared the target and the adrenalin started surging.

We swept down onto the sands of Barra and fell out of the Cherokee by 2pm, blagged a lift round to Eoligarry Church from airport team member Michael and were frantically scanning crinkly Sycamore leaves for the Yankee Redstart by 2.10pm.
The silence of beautiful tranquil Barra was almost deafening after the constant buzz of the Cherokee’s engines, but we were on a tight schedule – Michael was picking us up again at 2.50pm!

Fleeting views of the warbler as it darted through the dark understorey were not what the doctor ordered, and it was all getting a bit stressful as the minutes ticked by.
Luckily, with just ten minutes to go, the female American Redstart darted into the stunted Sycamore in front of us and began zipping all over the place, occasionally pausing for a few seconds to give gobsmacking views.
It was glorious, just yankee autumn mega glorious.
She was swishing and cocking her sexy yellow and black tail and flicking her wings almost constantly while hoovering up insects from the foliage.
Great views as she whizzed about, but way beyond my photographic abilities and I wasn’t going to waste the limited time worrying about f-stops and the like.
I just wanted to watch the warbler baby.
You can just see her in image at the top of the entry, and in this one too…

Luckily Neill Hunt is a bit better with a camera than I am – thanks for the picture below buddy. Spiffing.

Happy faces then as Michael came to collect us and bundle us to the airport/beach, while explaining as we sped back across Barra how the yellow-topped post marked the end of the runway and we had to take off before the rising tide flowed past it.

Adrian hustled us into the Cherokee, and with the elastic bands fully tightened and backed by a fair wind, we raced down the sands and soared back into the blue again by 3.10pm!

Bye bye Barra, wish I could have stayed longer.
All that was left was to breathe a sigh of relief and play spot the Hebridean island as we cruised south.
Eriskay, Coll and Tireeeeee, Iona, Mull, the Paps of Jura, Islay, Ailsa Craig etc etc.
I wondered whether to tell Neill that his door wasn’t shut properly, but he discovered that himself quite quickly, and anyway, the cold air made the flight back to Blackpool all the more refreshing….
A ridiculously indulgent day, but with the white sand of Barra still dusting the soles of my Meindls as I sit here, back home less than 12 hours after I set out, it was undeniably splendid too…what an adventure!
I’ve been dreaming of landing on that beach for more than 30 years.
Thanks to Neill and Paul for the great company, Adrian and Michael for being brill and most importantly thanks to my lovely bank manager (if such creatures still exist in the virtual world of modern day finance) ‘cos my account took a right kicking today.
Was an American Redstart worth a monkey?

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