The SCI at Des Moines 2016

By David Coster

The Des Moines fairgrounds was once again the location for the SCI’s national club meet in 2016. Anya Ellis flew in from Connecticut to judge her own creation and see how this Rare Breed is coming along in the hands of other interested Fanciers. Seraphim are shown in the Rare Breeds section as a rule, but for the past couple of years the SCI has been able to put together a sanctioned club meet in Des Moines. We hope to be able to continue with a sanctioned show most years in Des Moines with the Iowa State Pigeon Association’s annual “Pigeons on the Prairie” show.

There were twenty Seraphim at the show, eleven of which managed to make it to the ranking of “Highly Superior”.

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Above are the top designated Seraphim in The Seraphim Club International’s third-ever national club show, celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Iowa State Pigeon Association’s “Pigeons on the Prairie” annual combined show, with Anya Ellis, Judge and developer of the Seraphim breed. The winners are adorned by their various trophies and ribbons, tired after a long day of being poked and prodded and talked about. The ISPA Show had about 4,400 entries this year with lots of designated club shows, so the SCI was part of a very big scene!

The Seraphim Club International has since been featured on the front cover of Purebred Pigeon Magazine to represent the Pigeons on the Prairie Show. There is an accompanying article on page 38 for those who are interested. You can order the January/February 2017 edition of Purebred Pigeon Magazine on line here:  www.purebredpigeon.com to read more about it!

2014 National SCI Meet, Des Moines

The second District 5 (Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota) SCI club meet was held on Saturday, December 13, 2014 at the State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, under the auspices of the Iowa State Pigeon Association. This meet is also a National Meet for the SCI according to the SCI Constitution, and exhibitors from across the nation are encouraged to enter Seraphim at this show. Seraphim are designated members of The Rare Breeds Club due to their small numbers, and the SCI is an affiliate of The Rare Breeds Club. Des Moines is the only location where the SCI has a concomitant show adjacent to The Rare Breeds Club show. At all other locations across the country, Seraphim are enrolled in and compete in The Rare Breeds Club area.

Eighteen Seraphim were entered by four exhibitors, with Mary Ann McNeill of Iowa winning the Grand Champion trophy and David Orth of Kansas winning the Reserve Champion trophy. Mary Ann also won trophies for Best OH and OC, and David also won trophies for Best YH and YC.

David Orth (Kansas) and Mary Ann McNeill (Iowa) with their show-winning Seraphim and Anya Ellis. Grand Champion (middle; Mc Neill), Reserve Champion (right; Orth)

David Orth (Kansas) and Mary Ann McNeill (Iowa) with their show-winning Seraphim and Anya Ellis. Grand Champion (2nd Seraph from left; Mc Neill), Reserve Champion (far right; Orth)

The Seraphim Club International at Des Moines

(As published in Purebred Pigeon magazine, Jan/Feb 2014)

Seraphim remain on the Rare Breeds List as an uncommon variety, with a few dedicated Fanciers across the United States seriously focused on maintaining and improving this 27 year old breed. The Seraphim project, started by Anne (Anya) Ellis in 1986, was intended to create a “Classic”, an artistic vision that once achieved would remain unchanged over time.

Yet Seraphim have changed significantly since 1986, and from the original Standard of Perfection of 1993, and their first exposure at a National Show at Salt Lake City in 1996. Several iterations of the Standard were developed as it became clear what was artistically and physically possible through selective breeding, with a “final” classic Standard rendered in 2009. Still, some minor delicate enhancements have occurred since then, and what Anya ultimately believes to be the final “final” will likely be unveiled in 2014, an ultimate Standard of Perfection based upon real-life experience in the loft that includes subtle changes to the head, swoop, peak, mane, and feather length. The end result is dramatic and beautiful, powerful yet delicate, alert yet peaceful, dignified but intense—and possible in real life by the dedicated Fancier.

So to celebrate this milestone in the history of Seraphim, the SCI decided, for the first time in its eleven year history, to sanction an independent Seraphim Club International Meet in Des Moines with the Iowa State Pigeon Association, and in affiliation with the Rare Breeds Pigeon Club. Not only that, the SCI decided this should be their first official National Meet for Seraphim. For such a special occasion, the Club had to do something a bit different than the normal routine, and focus strongly on new education for exhibitors to include what is expected of today’s Seraph, as well as on the history, vision, art, science, and philosophy behind Seraphim. Anya agreed to be the Judge and dedicate herself to a day of intense interaction with the exhibitors. What could have been a 90 minute long task of judging instead became a five hour marathon of education, with all exhibitors watching, listening, and asking questions as Anya went from bird to bird explaining every detail of what makes a great Seraph and what doesn’t, pulling information from many fields to paint a picture of the ultimate Seraph for the group. It was by far the most useful and fulfilling experience any of the exhibitors present ever had at a pigeon show—and exhausting! But at the end of the day, everyone understood the task before them, and exactly why their Seraphim did or did not meet the Standard of Perfection, and they understood the difference between the 2013 Seraph and the 1996 Seraph. Everyone left the show tired but newly energized. 

In keeping with the significance of this first-ever event, the SCI decorated the final judging area with white feather boas, an enormous canister of colorful holiday ornaments, and an award-winning wood carving of a Seraph done by Clark Weaver of Grinnell, Iowa. Exhibitors were present from Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Minnesota, and there were thirty-five entries for the show. Those awarded points for “Highly Superior” Seraphim included David Orth of Kansas, Judy Miller of Missouri, and David Coster of Iowa. Mary McNeil of Iowa had a last minute complication that prevented her from showing any birds that would no doubt have won points too.

Anya Ellis with her creation. From the right, Best YH, Best OH (Champion), Best YC (Reserve Champion). Best OC 5th from right; all others were finalists for Best OC

Anya Ellis admiring her creation. From the right, Best YH, Best OH (Champion), Best YC (Reserve Champion). Best OC 5th from right; #’s 4, 6, 7, and 8 from the right were finalists for Best OC

I believe the highlight for Anya Ellis may have been awarding the Champion Seraph title to a hen instead of a cock, but then again it may have been the surprise and thrill of seeing so many well-bred Seraphim under one roof from which to choose a champion, a real testament to her life-long dedication to creating the “Angel of the Pigeon Fancy.”

David Coster MD

Manager, Seraphim Club International

Breaking Science News

Dr. Michael Shapiro et.al. at The University of Utah recently published some major news: his lab has run the genome of the rock dove and compared it to a number of domestic fancy pigeon breeds to begin the process of identifying exactly what is happening in the DNA of pigeons which exhibit various form, color, and feather traits. This is a BIG deal for the pigeon fancier, and potentially a big deal for the field of medicine as well as genetics and molecular biology.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/05/science/pigeons-a-darwin-favorite-carry-new-clues-to-evolution.html?hp&_r=0

Pigeons have been important over the centuries as pets, messengers, food, and a prominent source of high nitrogen fertilizer (saltpeter, over which wars once broke out); not to mention high flying sports and acrobatics as well as living artistry for royalty all over the world. Add in Darwin’s studies of pigeons due to their genetic malleability and how much they influenced his thinking on evolution and one is seriously left to wonder why the pigeon genome wasn’t one of the first genomes to be unwound by scientists when it finally became possible to do such a thing.

This development may completely demystify the subjective and mysterious artistry of fancy pigeon breeding. One will be able to send in a blood sample or throat swab from a bird and define every mutation and predict every possible combination of traits and patterns the bird can produce in offspring when paired with any other bird. The difficult to define subjective characteristics of the best blood lines may not, however, become easier to define genetically. The pleasure of doing the work of careful observation and breeding to eventually create “perfect” form and function will still take luck and a good eye. Variations in gene expression, environment, and nutrition will always create obstacles for our goal of creating the finest specimen in the show hall even if we happen to know the precise genetic makeup of our birds.

The story with racing pigeons, though, could be different. With racers we are not looking for form per se, but rather a specific physiology, and it could quickly become apparent which genetic mutations result in the most stamina and speed, and the race would be on to acquire primarily those birds in everyone’s loft. The competition would go on, of course, and many other factors would come into play,  but the competition could get ever more keen, with the edge between winners and losers becoming increasingly tight. The same could hold true for other types of flying competitions.

No matter the blood line though, no matter the proof of genetic makeup, what one cannot predict is the random chanciness of genetic pairing and mutation and the subtle shifts in the way genes are expressed, and it is exactly THAT that will—no matter what the science—keep the pigeon fancy not only interesting but challenging. Even genetically identical twins do not precisely express the message of their genes in exactly the same way, so even though the competition may be tougher, there will still always be a special bird or two in the line-up that has that extra undefinable something that forces the judge to put a ribbon on him.

Yes, pigeon fanciers need to be scientists, even if they raise their birds only because they love them for their own personal reasons. Observations matter. Who knows – any one of us might accidentally stumble across some new thing in our loft that has a significant impact in the world in some way. Pigeons may be little and seem insignificant, but they’re not. They have changed the course of world history in the past, and they continue to provide a great source of inspiration as well as scientific information today. For all we know they may offer insight into scientific and medical breakthroughs in the future that will again modulate the course of human history. We should all stay tuned in to these new developments. Our little pets matter a lot more than many ever imagined.

David Coster M.D.
Editor, The Seraphim Club International

The Seraphim Club International at the Iowa State Pigeon Association 2012 Pigeon Show

The Seraphim section at the ISPA show, December 8th, 2012.

A Seraph in show stance at the Des Moines Show. There were over twenty Seraphim at the show this year.

A Seraph in show stance at the Des Moines Show. There were over twenty Seraphim at the show this year.

A particularly beautiful young Seraph cock.

A particularly beautiful young Seraph cock.

The Seraphim Club International made a formal showing this year at the Des Moines “Pigeons on the Prairie” fancy pigeon show sponsored by the Iowa State Pigeon Association. Seraphim were represented from Minnesota and Eastern and Western Iowa this year, though there were Seraphim breeders from various other midwestern states on hand to observe.

The Des Moines show is a very large show and typically has entries in the thousands. It was well attended by visitors as well as competitors this year, and was very organized as usual. Foy’s Pigeon Supplies was on hand to make sure fanciers could access all of the necessities for their special pets.

A Show Homer at the ISPA show.

A Show Homer at the ISPA show.

Nothing surpasses the iridescence of the Archangel.

Nothing surpasses the iridescence of the Archangel.

A wild looking Short Face English Tumbler.

A wild looking Short Face English Tumbler.

The above are just a few examples of the wide variety of pigeon breeds shown in Des Moines, breeds that ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. Yes I said it….some varieties seem a little crazy. I won’t name names since someone is bound to be in love with some of the more abstract pigeon creations that I just don’t fathom, but some can only be described as “works of art” or “art in progress”. 🙂 Nevertheless, a good time was had by all!

David Coster, Editor