It's time for my latest look at collective nouns, and to quote a famous Monty Python line, "now for something completely different" as this week's selection only has one recognised collective noun. Perhaps this isn't wholly surprising, as the species concerned is not really known for occurring in flocks.

Chiffchaffs are small olive-green warblers. They are generally summer migrants to the UK, although small numbers do stay throughout the winter, especially around gardens and sewage farms in southern England. They are only short distance migrants, spending the winter in Spain, Portugal or Morocco, rather than flying to sub Saharan Africa, as most other warblers do. This means that they are one of the first migrants to return to our shores, and can often be heard singing from early March.

I heard my first chiffchaffs of the year at Minsmere last week, and even more excitingly, one was singing in my garden this morning. They have one of the easiest songs to identify as they simply sing their name repetitively all day: "chiff chaff chiff chaff chiff chaff." For a bit of variation, they will sometimes throw in an extra "chiff" or "chaff" out of sequence. What's more, March is a great time to actually see them as there are few leaves to hide them.

Although there are several chiffchaffs around the reserve, you'd hardly call them a flock. You may, however, see several chiffchaffs together in the autumn when they often gather with other warblers or small flocks of tits, feeding on ripe blackberries or flycatching in a sunny clearing. You're more likely to see what could loosely be described as flock of chiffchaffs if you visit Spain or Portugal in winter - I remember a recent trip whey they were the more frequently seen small bird, with at least 20 seen along a few hundred metre stretch of roadside scrub.

All of which possibly explains the lack of collective nouns, despite this being such a common and widespread summer migrant. I have only been able to find reference to a confusion of chiffchaffs. My best guess for the origins of this term is that it refers to the song, as the bird doesn't appear to know whether to sing "chiff" or "chaff." 

Whether you see or hear several, or just a single chiffchaff, now is a great time to take a walk and listen out for their cheery little song. Next month, our guides will also be leading several early morning walks to learn birdsong. To book your place on these walks, please click here.

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