The National Exhibition is one of the few events in this country (or anywhere in the World) where you can see new London Fancies on display. Officially, this section of the show is hosted by the London Fancy Canary Club, but in practice it is down to the hard work and dedication of two fanciers: Bernard Howlett and Andy Early.
These are still early days for the resurrection of the breed; the birds are more a work in progress than the final product. The quality of the birds inevitably varies from year to year, but that makes the National compulsive viewing for those of us who follow the development of the breed.
The benchmark was set in 2015, when Piet Renders brought his show team over from Holland. It was the first time that we were able to compare the Dutch and British strains side by side. It was no contest: Piet swept the board, and deservedly so. His birds not only displayed clear contour feathers, but also dark wings and tails; not a foul feather in sight.
The 2016 event saw a lull; Piet’s birds were absent, and while there were plenty of exhibits on show, every one of them displayed foul feathers in wings and/or tail. Nevertheless, things were happening behind the scenes: Andy Early obtained some birds from Piet and Marko Dielen that year. The 2017 show would be the first opportunity for us to see if their offspring could deliver on their promise.
They did. Only 12 birds were entered, but I was very impressed by what I saw at the 2017 National. The quality was a big step up on the previous year.
Best Mealy and Best Jonque London Fancy were both bred by Andy from Dutch stock. They displayed extensive areas of clear feathering over the body, combined with totally dark wings and tail. True, the contour feathers were not 100% clear, as seen in Piet’s best birds, but considering the small sample, the results far exceeded my expectations.
The fugitive black gene (aka the LF gene) appears to be a partially dominant factor. Birds either have it or they don’t, but if they do possess the gene, its expression can be anything from 1% to 99% clear feathering. The Best Mealy was at least 90% clear; the Best Jonque over 75%. What you can’t see, but is crucial to the authenticity of these birds, is that they moulted from dark in nest feather to light in adult plumage.
Another feature that I found attractive is their colour. The Best Jonque was an intense yellow; it draws the eye. By contrast, the Best Mealy was a pale buff. It was a far greater contrast than you see between intensive and non-intensive specimens in yellow lipochrome colour canaries for example.
Andy may have won the top prizes, but it was good to see that Bernard Howlett, the founding father of the new London Fancy, was amongst the prize winners. We also had the pleasure of seeing Martin Walker exhibiting his London Fancies for the first time. Martin’s birds are founded on a different line from anyone else’s (1) and were not out of place here.
A word of praise too for judge Andy Williamson. Not many judges come across London Fancies, and they may not be familiar with the reality of not-quite-perfect specimens with a wide range of strengths and weaknesses. It’s a tricky task, but I thought Andy’s adjudication was spot-on.
These are early days and the breed is still a work in progress, but from what I saw at the National Exhibition, the new London Fancy is heading in the right direction.
- Martin has been ploughing his own furrow for ten years. He started with a cinnamon Lancashire canary x Lizard canary cross, and has consistently retained those birds with the best combination of light body feathers and dark wings and tail. He told me that the birds show variegation in nest feather, but that these areas expanded during the moult. This suggests the intriguing possibility of an intermediate phase between the Dutch and British strains. Time will tell.