Birdwatch: the chiffchaff, an early sign of spring, is 20 days late this year | Environment

Many birds are called after the sound they make, but few sing their name quite so persistently as the chiffchaff. From mid-March onwards, I hear them at the bottom of my garden; and occasionally catch a glimpse of a tiny, olive-coloured bird flitting among the foliage, pumping its tail up and down as it sings.

Chiffchaffs are one of the first real signs of spring. Many of our migrants, such as reed, sedge and willow warblers, travel here from south of the Sahara, and arrive back from early April onwards. But because chiffchaffs spend the winter closer to home, in Iberia or North Africa, they usually return a couple of weeks earlier than their cousins.

But not this year. It may not quite be the worst spring in living memory – that dubious honour goes to 2013 – but the incessant clouds, rain and chill winds have made it feel pretty rotten. Day after day, I listened out for that familiar two-note song; day after day, I failed to hear it. Finally, on 3 April, the sun shone briefly, and a chiffchaff began to sing – a full 20 days later than last year.

Stephen Moss will be one of the panel of Weatherwatch contributors taking part in Freak Weather in History at the British Library on Wednesday 2 May, at 7pm