“He that has abilities to conceive perfection will not easily be content without it”
Samuel Johnson (1751)
You may not have heard of the BPC Liege show, but it is an outstanding event (1). It is an all-canary show catering for no less than 30 varieties plus, for the 2016 edition, a special competition for the Lizard canary. The standard of the Lizards is exceptional thanks to the participation of some of the best breeders in the world: Bart Deckers, Jean Degroot, Jules Etienne, Fernand Moes and Ronald Wauters. I have judged the Lizards there twice, but on this occasion I attended as an exhibitor and had time to visit a couple of breeders at home. The first was Fernand Moes (2).
Fernand lives just outside Liege (3) in Wallonia, the French speaking part of Belgium. He has a long list of achievements with his Lizard canaries, including gold medals at the World Show. I always associate him with clear cap silver hens of the first water (4). He is far too modest to boast about them though. It says something about Fernand’s reputation that we needed two cars to transport everyone who wanted to see his set-up. We weren’t disappointed.
Fernand started his working career as a carpenter, but then specialised as a roofer. His mastery of both trades was on show, both in his house (most of which he built himself) and in his bird house. The latter is clad with natural slate, but like a true craftsman he adds a decorative flourish to his handiwork: a scalloped diamond motif. This level of detailing is something you associate with historic buildings, not a bird house.
Fernand’s bird house has three compartments: the first you see is the section that accommodates his best young birds (most were at the show, but there were some beautiful birds left at home); the second houses a mixture of young birds and over-years; and the third is a large aviary with an ingenious method of enclosure. A series of sliding polycarbonate panels can be opened up on sunny days, or closed to protect the birds when the weather turns.
Fernand’s cages are a mixture of proprietary wire cages and home-made cages; it was the latter, with an unusual combination of ancient and modern, that caught my eye. In many respects they are bang up to date: assembled from plastic panels; fitted with wire floors; each cage is supported independently so that are easy to move and clean. Look closer however, and you will notice that they have purpose-made zinc trays (not to be confused with zinc coated steel) expertly formed and soldered, using a technology that goes back centuries. The result is both practical and beautiful.
It is these fine details that tell us so much about Fernand and his quest for perfection. He has a sharp understanding of what it takes to produce a great Lizard canary. Ask his opinion of a particular bird at a show and he will give you a polite and fair assessment – that is deadly accurate. Ask him about one of his own birds and he is much more likely to list its shortcomings than its virtues; an unfair criticism. In my opinion his Lizards are well balanced birds with lovely detailing, a joy to behold, but that’s the trouble with being a perfectionist. As Samuel Johnson observed, you are not easily content.
I always enjoy visiting other bird keepers. I’ve never come away without learning something. My visit to Fernand was one of the best. He is one of the fancy’s nice guys; an outstanding breeder, yet modest about his own achievements and complimentary about the accomplishments of others. He may not realise it, but his greatest achievement is that his pursuit of excellence has not (as so often happens) affected the qualities that make him so likeable.
The sort of person you want to visit.
- BPC translates as the Belgian Posture Canary club, and thanks to the endeavours of Jules Etienne, the Lizard canary is well catered for. Jules is an advocate of specialist Lizard judges, and this year’s show was judged by one of the best on the circuit: Andy Williamson.
- I will report on our visit to Jules in a separate article.
- Liege is known as Luik to the Vlaanderens (Flemish), Belgium’s Dutch-speaking population.
- Of the first water is an archaic phrase that means ‘of the highest quality’. It is derived from the diamond trade in the eighteenth century, and referred to stones with the best clarity.