Beginner or not a Beginner – that is the question Part 1

I’ve been breeding our beautiful friends since I was about 11 years old, I’m now in my 67th and quickly approaching my 68th year. Like many of us I started with a very small aviary of pet birds with a few nestboxes, colony style. I quickly realised that I had a soft heart for these little beauties and I suppose you could say is that I was hooked all those years ago. I have been breeding budgies, on and off, throughout these years of living on this planet … however, some might think that I’m from somewhere outside our solar system.

I enjoy writing these days, in fact I’ve been putting fingers to keyboard for some years now and have written articles for a budgerigar club magazine back in the late 90’s/00’s, and have written my life story into book form for my family and close friends. I’ve been known to be controversial, as the members of EBF will no doubt confirm, but that’s for another time.

My sense of humour spills over somewhat into my writing, so please don’t get the hump if something doesn’t hit the right spot for you – I write with a smile.

Anyway, I digress.

Just a boy

Back in those very early 1960’s I lived with my sister and mum, so things were very tight for us as a family in the New Town of Basildon, Essex.

Our next door neighbour kept budgies and I took over their small aviary when they bought a new set-up. You can see in the photo that is was quite a small start. Even though my aviary was petite, much like myself, my enthusiasm was there already.

I joined the local Basildon CBS and remember that the place was buzzing with members, young through to old.

I bought a Lt Green cock that I liked the look of from a local lad, who was a few years older than me and had met at the club. The local club show was looming, so I decided to enter this bird which was far better than anything in my pet aviary, it had been bred cage style. Guess what, I won best Junior with the bird.

However, the bird that came in second place belonged to the lad that I had bought the Lt Green from – I was totally embarrassed, even at that age, and I pledged to myself that I would never show a bird that did not have my own personal ring on its leg. That stands true for me now and I will not go back on the promise that I made to myself.

This is me with my first aviary, you can just see the nestbox hanging down. I have no idea what I’m holding, it might be either a young guinea pig or kitten, it could even be a teddy … (at 11 years old? Perhaps not !), who knows.

I suppose I lost interest in budgies by the time I was into my teens with my interests being dominated by football and the best team in the land at that time, Tottenham Hotspur, I got over to The Lane whenever I could, if I wasn’t playing for Basildon Boys Club, that’s me in the photo on the right. The guy who’s presenting the trophies at the club presentation evening was Andy Smiley, the current Southend Utd captain. I wasn’t a bad little players in those days in 1966. While Bobby Moore was holding up the World cup for England, I was holding up “Sportsman of the Year” trophy !

 My second try.

I didn’t get back into budgies until years later in the early 80’s, I was then married and lived in Tiptree, Essex. I started up again and bought birds from local breeders.

I wasn’t too serious about showing at that stage I just loved keeping budgies, nice for the 2 kids to look at as well.

My new  aviary was an outside flight about 8ft x 6ft bolted onto a 6 x 4 shed fitted crudely inside with breeding cages. I didn’t bother to join any clubs in the area, can’t quite remember why. What I do remember is going to see Ken Grey, he was living in Tiptree at that time. What a set-up he had, and his birds were stunning. I also remember that he wouldn’t let me into one part of the aviary complex, it was obviously very secret, probably his Rainbow line.  Nevertheless I couldn’t blame him, as he didn’t know me very well. I bought my birds from a guy in Heybridge, Maldon, his name escapes me at the moment, he was a friend of Geoff Murrells (Colchester ).

This all came to a sticky end when my aviary became infested with mice, and losing birds left, right and centre. Not surprising really, because just over the back of my garden was a large production chicken shed which took 2 day old chicks and fed them up for the table. Oh well, there you go, our kids were growing up fast so I spent even more time with them, nice.

I didn’t meet with Ken again until about 1998 when he came to the West Norfolk BS to give a talk on Rainbows, a lovely man.

Another gap from keeping budgies, this time it was because I spent lots of time with the kids and the remaining time was taken with work ….. or was that the other way round?, Yep I think it was.

 Norwich next

We moved to Costessey, Norwich, when my career took a change in direction and I went into sales. The problem was, like many of us, the work began to rule my life completely.

I needed to do something outside of my work, I and it, was getting very intense, working, driving thousands of miles every month, meetings, budgets, targets. Work, work and more work, evenings and into the weekends. Good recipe for hospital, don’t you think?

A workmate asked me what I did in my spare time, I couldn’t give him an answer. How sad was that. He gave me the best piece of advice that I had come across for years,

“Get yourself a hobby and make time for yourself”.

What did he do?

“Carp fishing”.

Now, that IS boring. Sitting on the bank for hours on end, cold, wet, sometimes through the night, waiting for a bite. He would call that a good sessions’ fishing, getting a bite, Can you imagine the excitement if he caught one, I can hardly contain myself.

I thought that I should get back into budgies, much more interesting.

I had a small 7ft x 5ft shed that wasn’t being used for anything, so I partly insulated and converted the inside with a small 3ft x 5ft flight and 4 breeding cages along one side.

There wasn’t enough space in there to swing a cat. I know ‘cause I tried it with our pet cat , Baldrick, no, not really ……………. I used next doors’ cat instead.

I bolted on an outside flight 7ft x 6ft and put a roof on it, I was ready for the birds.

I didn’t know of anybody that bred birds in the Norwich area, even with the large cross section and volume of people that I was contacting through my job, I thought this was rather strange as the hobby I left some 15 years previous looked in good shape.

I eventually got hold of Bert Parnell, what a lovely man, he invited me round to see his birds and would help me out to get started, brilliant, just what I wanted. We talked a lot about breeding and all of that sort of stuff, I came away with 10 birds; 6 youngsters and 2 breeding pairs. He let me have the lot for about £30. I only managed to breed 4 chicks that October/ November, but I didn’t mind, all I wanted to do was to make sure I was doing the right thing, and I was, I got the budgie bug back.

That was back in 1996, I wasn’t interested in showing or clubs at that stage, just wanted to use the time out in the aviary to get de-stressed from work, even if it was freezing cold out there.

I went back to Bert on many occasions for advice and more birds.

Do you know, I could trace all of my successful lines at the time, back to 2 cinnamon opaline sky blue cocks that were bred from PC719 birds.

Thanks Bert – RIP, wherever you are now.

It was time to expand, I had another shed in the garden 8 x 6 and one of my relations had another that he didn’t need, same size, so I bought it home and put the 2 together.

My new shed was then 16ft long x 6ft wide, with an outside flight of 10ft x 10ft with staggered perches on the corners. I am a great believer in outside flights, I think that they keep my birds fit and in good condition, especially when it rains, the birds will get themselves as wet as they can, even though the flight is covered they hang on the wires to get the moisture.

Inside, I had 3 tiers of 5 breeding cages going down one side and a small inside flight of 6ft x 6ft. This is a photo of one of the breeding cages going in through the window – just. The door was in the wrong place for it to get through, with hindsight I should have bought the block before fitting the 2 sheds together.

I think my main problem was that my shed was only 6ft wide, I really needed it to be about 8ft. I still had Baldrick, and I still couldn’t swing him round without hitting his head on the window on the side, perhaps I should have held him by his legs rather than his tail.

I joined the BS and started showing with limited success but enjoying the relaxation in the shed when I had made some spare time from work.

I struggled on during this time though, borrowing show cages and entering shows, that said, I did quite well, but my breeding was getting disastrous, and help was lacking. So I decided to change my birds’ basic seed diet and go to Trill, amongst many other changes.

Now, where do I get Trill?

I remember meeting a very interesting guy at one of the local shows a few years previous who was selling Trill, and for some unknown reason I remembered his name.

Of course, it was Rick Craven.

Rick then introduced me to the West Norfolk BS and all was going in the right direction. My birds had taken well to the new regime and I was getting results in the shed and on the bench.

I, and another beginner, threw ourselves into bringing the club into the present time and envisaged renaming the club The West Norfolk Progressive BS. We set up a website and organised a monthly Club magazine for all members to contribute ideas and articles. We also published the previous months minutes, so that the next meeting would not be dominated by dreary “last month’s minutes”, and we could get on with budgie business …. I wonder if any clubs do this sort of thing now ?

Here are some of the trophies that I won at that time;

At this time I had some I.T. training for my job on how to build a data base. From the very start of the course it was obvious to me that I could easily use my new skills to run our club show via a laptop and printer with this great new medium. After getting the go ahead from this old fashioned club, I went for it, but for many reasons within the club membership it all failed, along with the website, magazine. It ran for about 12 months, but died because of apathy within the club membership. It was disheartening to say the least, because there were the dedicated minority who put lots of work into the failure – shame – the club went back to its old, outdated ways. I’m sure it’s changed now though. Nonetheless, if I were a betting man, I would wager that this is still the case in many clubs over the UK right now, which is a great shame. But I will say, that in this monthly magazine, we were banging on about the same issues back then as we do now.

Anyhow, I stayed at the club and carried on with the budgies, picking up winners at the local club shows and LEA where I helped out with stewarding and all that sort of club stuff.

I’ve kept copies of the magazines.

I’m not sure I know where the answer lies, but if clubs don’t embrace technology to encourage younger members into the fold, we are going to have a very large hole within the hobby. These are the people that should be showing us the way for the future and make significant changes – not only at local club level but at BS GC level as well. Change has to happen guys, there are some members who don’t like it when I bash this drum, come on you younger members, step up to the plate and change the direction, and outlook of our struggling society – please.

Another digression, over now.

Yet another gap

I was due to go up into the BS Novice section but in 2003 my wife and I had fallen out of love with the UK and decided to retire, leave it all behind us and move to Spain, lock stock and barrel …… but not with the budgies.

We came back to the wonderful UK in 2011 – yes, you did read it correctly. Our experience in Spain was overall good, but we missed our family far too much and there were quite a lot of negatives along the way…. you’ll remember the financial crash don’t you ? …………. moving on very quickly !

There are many good reasons to come back here, so here we are, perhaps I’ll go into more detail at another time.

This next section could be an article of its own, so I’ll try to be concise, but it won’t be an easy task for many reasons. Perhaps if you like what you have read here, I’ll do some more stuff in the future, budgie related of course.

Back to being a Beginner.

So we’re back to the original question in the title, and a good excuse for writing this drivel.

Of course I’m a Beginner as far as show circles are concerned, but I’ve got years of aviary and bird management experience. However, it’s frightening how much I had forgotten in those years, and of course I had to retrain my “eye”.

I got my new Shed up and running in about 2013 – But what I saw as a good bird was in fact not good at all, my eye was out of date as I was told in no uncertain terms when I visited a well respected breeder, the bird I picked out of his shed as a good ‘un was in fact a duffer. He told me that I had an “old fashioned eye”, and he was right too, and I still find it difficult to get rid of the older style bird out of my old-ish brain, but I’m working on that with the help of Andy Edden and also the EBF, I couldn’t have managed without these people. They have brought me into the world of the 2016 bird.

I have to say that I generally like many birds that are on the circuit right now, although there are some around that I find have extreme features, in my view they are ugly and make a bird appear to be unbalanced, but some breeders love them, I certainly don’t.

It has been said by some that they wonder if I will change my mind now that my Shed has more quality birds with which to breed …….. I might change my mind about the more extreme features of the popular bird now, but it’s my prerogative to do it, and perhaps an issue for another time.

I don’t specialise in any type of budgerigar, but I sway towards the Normal in any colour with the exception of Grey Green – although I do realise that it is very important to have some Grey Greens in the shed.

I’m very contrary, I realise that.

I just love the Normal Lt Green and Cobalt etc.

It has to be said I have a very soft spot for the Texas Clearbody, in its purest form. By messing around with them, adding Opaline, Spangle or anything else that interrupts the Normal type of the TCB, in my book is a crime. The sad thing for me is that I have had no luck with breeding them, but now that I am improving my birds, there might be a better chance of breeding some good TCB lines, here’s hoping, I need to put my hand in my pocket and buy a couple of Normal TCB’s … the sooner the better.

So, yes I’m most definitely still a Beginner ……… and learning every day.

Part 2 To be continued in a few weeks from now, so keep checking. In the meantime here is an interlude, entitled “Interlude”  …. so much thought goes into my stuff !