For the love of birds

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Ma­gog

Ait ny­one who has ei­ther met or read about An­dré and France Dion knows that this cou­ple loves birds. And while vis­it­ing the Dions at their home in Ma­gog, quickly be­came ap­par­ent that birds love them right back! Sitting in their so­lar­ium,

mourn­ing doves flut­tered at the win­dows while blue jays and chick­adees took turns at a feeder in their yard, one of many.

And who can blame the birds? The Dions, who are bet­ter known out­side of Que­bec for their work on be­half of birds, have cre­ated a minia­ture bird sanc­tu­ary of their small yard. “This is the third bird sanc­tu­ary that we’ve built. We’ve planted many dif­fer­ent shrubs and trees that give fruit: moose shrubs, elderberries, high bush cran­ber­ries, chokecher­ries...shrubs that bring dif­fer­ent birds at dif­fer­ent times of the year. And we have dif­fer­ent kinds of nest­ing boxes, for tree swal­lows, blue­birds, chick­adees,” ex­plained An­dré Dion who, among a few other bird-re­lated ac­com­plish­ments, wrote fif­teen books on the sub­ject and was once the di­rec- tor of the North Amer­i­can Blue­bird So­ci­ety. In 2010, he was named a “che­va­lier” of France’s pres­ti­gious Or­dre de la Pléi­ade de la Fran­co­phonie for his life­long work with our feath­ered friends.

“Look over there,” he said, point­ing to a cor­ner of the gar­den. “There are about twenty-five doves.” Be­sides many of the more com­mon birds, their sanc­tu­ary is home to bo­hemian waxwings, wood­peck­ers, red breasted gros­beaks, cross­bills and more. “We get lots of chil­dren vis­it­ing the sanc­tu­ary – maybe about two hun­dred and fifty peo­ple vis­ited last sum­mer,” added Mrs. Dion.

The Dions, who are still go­ing strong in their seven­ties and eight­ies, mar­ried forty years ago, bring­ing to­gether their five daugh­ters to cre­ate a new fam­ily and a pro­duc­tive part­ner­ship. “My wife and I have been to­gether for forty years and she has worked with me, help­ing me in all the projects,” said Mr. Dion ap­pre­cia­tively. “We didn’t just write books, we wrote one hun­dred and five “Auto Cor­rect Art” games (ed­u­ca­tional games that sold very well in sev­eral coun­tries and won awards), we trav­elled with our daugh­ters all over the world. It was some­times dif­fi­cult to live to­gether, work­ing seven days a week to­gether. It was a big job but we were very happy to do it,” added Mrs. Dion.

The Dions laughed when they re­called how An­dré be­gan writ­ing the first book Le re­tour de l’oiseau bleu which was pub­lished in both English and French. “At fifty-nine years of age my hus­band was hav­ing a ter­ri­ble gout at­tack. I told him you’re dy­ing now so you’ll have to write your book,” said France. “I al­ways said I would write a book. In six days I wrote that book – with a type­writer! I worked day and night,” said An­dré.

Af­ter the book was pub­lished, France cre­ated the So­ci­eté des Amis du merle bleu de l’Est de l’Amerique (SAMBEA) which soon had 450 mem­bers, all ded­i­cated to the task of bring­ing the beau­ti­ful lit­tle blue­bird back to Que­bec. Mr. Dion ex­plained why the blue­birds be­came so scarce in the first place: “The English spar­rows and the star­lings be­gan nest­ing in the kinds of cav­i­ties that the blue­birds used.”

The Dions, along with the So­ci­ety’s mem­bers, got very busy, build­ing and in­stalling blue­bird nest­ing boxes all over Que­bec, from the Sague­nay to the Gaspé. “We taught peo­ple how to make the nest­ing boxes and we went ev­ery­where – on golf cour­ses, in ceme­ter­ies...” men­tioned France. “When we were fin­ished we had in­stalled more than 10,000 nest­ing boxes all over Que­bec. And the blue­birds came back,” said An­dré.

How the Dions ended up liv­ing in Ma­gog was the cul­mi­na­tion of an­other one of their ad­ven­tures which be­gan on a ter­ri­bly tragic note. Af­ter the death of one of their five daugh­ters, the Dions de­cided to sell their large home in St. Placide, along with

most of their be­long­ings, to go trav­el­ling in a big RV, head­ing off in 1996. “Our goal was to go to Capis­trano, Cal­i­for­nia, to see the swal­lows there. When we started that trip, An­dré was 74 years old,” said France.

“Was it a dif­fi­cult trip?” I asked. “No. It was the best thing we ever did. Af­ter los­ing a daugh­ter, we kept our mem­o­ries in our head.”

Af­ter trav­el­ling around the United States for four years, even mak­ing it up to Alaska, it was time to set­tle down again. “An­dré’s brother sug­gested we buy a lit­tle house in Ma­gog. An­dré’s roots are here and we love the re­gion,” Mrs. Dion ad­mit­ted.

The Dions have been work­ing on a new ad­ven­ture for the past few years, one that is steadily gain­ing in sup­port as did the quest to bring back the blue­bird. “Af­ter the suc­cess we had with the blue­birds, we didn’t want to just sit on our hands,” said France. So in 2003, France cre­ated a new foun­da­tion to pro­tect nest­ing ducks such as the Bar­row’s Gold­en­eye, a kind of small duck that makes its nests in cav­i­ties. The clear-cut­ting of our North­ern forests is mak­ing it harder and harder for these kinds of ducks to nest.

To help fi­nance the cam­paign, money is needed mostly to buy wood to build the nest­ing boxes, Mr. Dion de­cided to write an­other book, but this one would be dif­fer­ent. “I wanted to tell our story with the birds and I wanted to find a way to reach dif­fer­ent peo­ple,” he ex­plained. L’Odyssée du Gar­rot d’Is­lande en Amerique, pub­lished in 2009, is Mr. Dion’s first novel.

“For that book I had to go to Ice­land to do re­search,” he said. “He went there alone, when he was 84,” said France. “It was the best trip ever. I lived for ten days at a re­search cen­tre where the Bar­row’s Gold­en­eye has been nest­ing for seven cen­turies,” added An­dré en­thu­si­as­ti­cally.

France had this to say about their goals for the fu­ture: “Our first ob­jec­tive is to in­stall 500 nest- ing boxes for ducks in the ‘grand nord’, Tadous­sac and up. Af­ter we go up in May, we’ll have in­stalled 174 nest­ing boxes in two years. Our sec­ond ob­jec­tive is to find some­one who will one day take over the work: the chil­dren.” The Dions have al­ready worked with many young stu­dents, show­ing them how to build the nest­ing boxes and how to in­stall them prop­erly. “Our third ob­jec­tive is to en­gage peo­ple who have noth­ing to do to help us. We have great week­ends, we get great deals on lodg­ing and we’re out­side all week­end. C’est la fete!”

To con­clude the in­ter- view, Mr. Dion wanted to re­mind our read­ers who feed the birds to do so care­fully, so as not to make the birds sick, men­tion­ing the dan­gers of mouldy bird­feed and im­proper hum­ming­bird food so­lu­tions. “When peo­ple take care of birds, they should do it se­ri­ously. Peo­ple are re­spon­si­ble for what hap­pens to the birds. Re­mem­ber Rachel Carl­son’s Silent Spring? It’s hap­pen­ing.”

For more in­for­ma­tion about the Dion’s foun­da­tion to pro­tect nest­ing ducks or to or­der Mr. Dion’s new novel, visit www.fon­da­tion­des­dion. com.

photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

An­dré and France Dion sit in their so­lar­ium, sur­rounded by the well-pop­u­lated bird sanc­tu­ary that is their small yard.

photo cour­tesy

An­dré and France Dion are seen here with other vol­un­teers be­fore in­stalling nest­ing boxes for ducks at Baie Ste-Cather­ine.

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