Photo: Donald Skinner-Reid. Agapornis heaven: a bank of Fischer’s lovebirds on the show bench.

After a surprise success in 2014, DONALD SKINNER-REID attended the Gouden Ring Show in Belgium in 2015 and hasn’t looked back. Here he shares some of the highlights of the 2017 show, held in the first week of December.

MY MEMBERSHIP of the International Ornithological Association (IOA) and my friendship with IOA president Richard Lumley introduced me to this annual show held in the midst of Flanders Fields. 2017 was the 25th annual Gouden Ring Show. I have spent many holidays in Belgium, a country that most folks pass en route to other supposedly more exciting venues. For cuisine, history, a great road system and excellent local hospitality, however, Flanders can’t be beaten.

The show hall on the outskirts of Roeselare is enormous and sits on the motorway half an hour’s drive from beautiful Bruges. Directly opposite the hall is a sign to Menin Gate, the famous World War I memorial that is built into the town walls of Ypres, which itself lies a 15-minute drive from the show hall. The drive to Ypres from Roeselare takes you through flat countryside dotted with the carefully tended graves of the soldiers of the Great War, including the enormous Tyne Cot cemetery. To this day, every night at 8pm in Ypres, the Last Post is still commemorated. Belgium is world renowned for its beers and the cuisine is the best I have eaten; Roeselare has many excellent restaurants. If you are as lucky as we were and can get a table at Pieter Kookt, you are in for a delight.

Richard Lumley has been instrumental in leading UK exhibitors to this stunning show. Richard and his friend Richard Kendrew, along with Chris Smith and others, work tirelessly for the fancy and at the Gouden Ring – I’ve seen it for myself. Initially, I thought that my Scots fancies were not good enough for international competition. How wrong I was. In 2014, after being persuaded that I was thinking nonsense, my friend Willie McKay took my birds to the show and I won silver and bronze medals for my Scots. I couldn’t believe it. So, in 2015, I decided to make the trip to see this incredible show for myself.

First off, I didn’t know how to transport the birds. Registering with DEFRA under the Balai Directive solves that issue. In the past, you could take birds to exhibit in Europe but you couldn’t bring them back! I hope this is not what happens after Brexit. In 2016, we used the DFDS ferry from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which is much closer to Scotland. We found this service so good that we did the same again this year. The ferry sails overnight and it makes for an excellent mini-cruise each way.

We arrived in Belgium on the Wednesday of the show week and booked the birds in. The organisers provide the show cages, which you hire from the Gouden Ring Club. The cages have fine sand as the floor covering and seed, and all the birds are watered daily via fountain drinkers.

On the Thursday, judging by the European points system takes place. This is no mean undertaking. In 2014, there were 6,167 exhibits; in 2015, 6,924; and in 2016, 7,319; while in 2017 there were 6,467 shown by 305 exhibitors, 32 of whom were from the UK. Of those 32, 16 were medallists who brought back 21 golds, 12 silver and 10 bronze.

The judges have to write a report on each bird in each class, so that the bird gets its own “report card” with helpful comments. If a bird in any class does not meet the required standard to qualify for 90 points, no award is made for the class. There is no first, second or third place just because there are three birds in the class; if it doesn’t make the grade, it doesn’t get an award. As a system, I rather like its honesty.

In some classes, only a gold will be awarded and no other medals, even if there are 10 other birds in the class. This time, acting as a steward, I returned one class of 14 birds with no medals won whatsoever. In section E (posture canaries) there are five classes for each variety, all based on colour: 100 per cent clear; not 100 per cent clear; 100 per cent dark; not 100 per cent dark; and white. If you have birds that fit the colour, it’s sensible to enter three per class.

Working as a steward, as I have done on my three visits, I find the judging day fascinating. The hall is simply huge. Judging takes place in different areas around the venue. While that is going on, the trade stands are being erected. At 12 noon, a bell rings and 300 helpers, judges and stewards are given lunch free of charge. At 1pm, everyone troops back to judging, which is completed at 4.30pm. By 5pm, the brochure detailing each bird’s points and each exhibitor’s ranking by points achieved is published on the internet and a physical copy delivered to each exhibitor by Friday. The organisation is simply excellent.

The Gouden Ring is not only a canary show. There are budgies of colour, show budgies, and coloured canaries of every hue and variety. The foreign section accounts for about 40 per cent of the show and I have seen birds there that I have never seen anywhere else. In 2015 I stewarded with C&AB contributor Graham Lee and learned a great deal about foreign birds. In 2017, Graham was one of the UK judges at the show and I stewarded with Richard and Rob Wright. It’s a great way to learn more about birds in the company of experts.

On the Friday, the show is made ready for the public with the wonderful gold rosettes placed on the medal-winning cages; it’s quite a spectacle. During the judging day, the sales shelves fill up, with local breeders entering birds marked with the breeder’s name, gender and price of the birds. The sales section opens to everyone at 8pm on the Friday evening, giving each person a fair chance to buy the birds. Worth a thought in the UK? Then more local breeders arrive on the Saturday to sell their birds. The sales “classes” are larger than a local UK CBS show. 

The show opens to the public on Saturday and Sunday. Trade stands of great quality and bird traders are present. Late on Sunday afternoon, the gold, silver and bronze rings are awarded to the winners of each section in a formal presentation. This time it was interesting to see that a large number of awards went to junior exhibitors.

Notable UK winners in 2017 included Mel Knaggs with his wonderful Parisian frills and Chris Smith with his Japanese Hosos; as well as Robert Costellow, Barrie Durant, Adam Kendall, Alan Robinson, R. Savage, Chris Hope, Gary Mann, Richard Kendrew, George Philpott, Neil Prentice, Stacey Turner and Geoff Walker. (Sorry if I have missed anyone!) Last, but definitely not least, Rob and Ian Wright won five gold medals and two silver. Ian’s crests are stunning and well-deserved winners.

To view the full 2017 results or for more information on the Gouden Ring Show, visit:

Donald Skinner-Reid is about to complete his debut season as a champion canary exhibitor.

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