When a friend reaches one of those 'big' birthdays, and the milestone comes with the invitation to go birding somewhere new and exciting, the opportunity just has to be snapped up – it would be genuinely rude not to.
I've hoped for an excuse to visit Sweden for some time, especially since spending time at my partner's family home in Finland and growing increasingly curious about the rest of Fennoscandia. Happily, my good birding friend Magnus extended a kind invitation to celebrate yet another year on this planet with a trip to some of the country's best migration hot-spots, alongside our mutual friends David and Simon.
As we drove out from Gothenburg airport, greeted by roadside Common Cranes, the stresses of imminently moving house back in Sussex rapidly faded away. We stayed at the bird observatory at Getterön Nature Reserve, near Magnus's home town of Varberg, where each morning we only had to glance up from our breakfast bowls to see White-tailed Eagles hunting Barnacle Geese, while the thousands of Common Cranes that had spent the night headed off in squadrons to feed. One morning as we prepared for a day in the field, an absolute peach of a male Pallid Harrier quartered at what felt like an arm's length from the window for several minutes. What more could you ask for?
Much of the break was spent birding Getterön and nearby Lerjan, where waders provided many of the highlights. Lerjan is one of those places where you can do pretty much everything from one spot and a regular contingent of migration-watchers gather each morning to log overhead and offshore movement, pick through gulls and waders, and check the bushes for grounded migrants.
Although we didn't experience a 'big' day there, it delivered many of our wader highlights, including Broad-billed Sandpiper and Temminck's Stint, as well as Red-backed Shrike and other migrants in the scrub, and European Honey Buzzards, pipits and wagtails moving overhead.
There was also the chance to get involved in some ringing, thanks to the accommodating team running the site at Getterön. We enjoyed Bluethroat in the hand and I ringed my first Marsh Warbler, a precious opportunity to apply the features I've memorised in the so far unfulfilled ambition to find an autumn bird in back home in Sussex.
Marsh Warbler, Lerjan, Sweden (David Campbell).
However, early September in southern Sweden is really best known for raptor migration. After picking up some migrant birds of prey at Lerjan, we were inspired to make the journey to Falsterbo at the south-west tip of the country, picking up another good friend, Liam, along the way.
Birders gathered for what turned out to be the biggest day of European Honey Buzzard migration at Falsterbo this millennium (David Campbell).
We had timed it just right, with European Honey Buzzards streaming overhead as they took the leap to Denmark, and Eurasian Sparrowhawks cutting through by the dozen lower down. This would have been enough – it turned out to be Falsterbo's biggest honey buzzard day this millennium – but two Pallid Harriers, a male Hen Harrier, four Black Kites, and several Ospreys and Western Marsh Harriers helped boost the day's raptor list to 12 species.
There was an atmosphere of collective joy, with hundreds of birders from across Europe gathering to soak in the spectacle and take in the artwork, conservation projects and birding companies pitched at the Falsterbo Bird Show.
The rest of the trip was spent mixing migration counts at Lerjan, a place I came home wishing was my local patch, with spells of forest birding further inland. It may not have been an optimal time of year to be scouring woodland tracks, but tracking down three Black Woodpeckers and picking through mixed flocks to find Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Willow Tit, Crested Tit and Pied Flycatcher was great fun. We all learned a new flight call too, as a pair of Black-throated Divers passed overhead.
The trip was signed off with an encounter with a Northern Goshawk during one last walk through Magnus's brother's land, my 137th species for the six-day birthday bash. It may not have been a tick-roadshow – I didn't manage a single lifer – but we'd spent the best part of a week in the field with often huge numbers of birds, enjoying waffles at Collins Bird Guide-themed tables (my idea of heaven) and getting a taste of the Swedish approach to birding and fieldwork in the company of close friends. It was certainly a birthday to remember, and not even mine!