Que­bec honors lo­cal bird lover

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Ma­gog

How ap­pro­pri­ate that An­dré Dion should re­ceive a Na­tional Assem­bly Medal from the hands of Or­ford MNA Pierre Reid in the mid­dle of his gar­den in Ma­gog. Af­ter all, with the gar­den be­ing the home to over one hun­dred birds, he was cer­tainly among


Mr. Dion who, with the help of his wife France, has writ­ten nine­teen books about birds, helped in the re­turn of the East­ern Blue­bird to Que­bec through bird­house build­ing cam­paigns and, more re­cently, led a project to build and in­stall hun­dreds of nest­ing boxes for en­dan­gered ducks in North­ern Que­bec, richly de­serves the award given to him for his con­tri­bu­tion to Que­bec So­ci­ety.

“I was very hon­ored to learn I would be re­ceiv­ing this award,” said Mr. Dion from his home.

But as is of­ten the case with Mr. Dion, talk quickly went “to the birds.” I asked the or­nithol­o­gist if the robins had re­turned early this year, hav­ing seen one my­self at the end of Fe­bru­ary in St. Hermenegilde. “Of­ten enough now, many birds pass the win­ter with us. This year there was a lot of fruit for the birds; the ‘pin binots’ (high bush cran­ber­ries) were ex­tremely plen­ti­ful. And with the warm­ing of the planet, the birds are ar­riv­ing a lot ear­lier and spring is more ad­vanced. I have a pair of robins in my gar­den that have al­ready formed as a cou­ple,” com­mented Mr. Dion. “I’ve seen a tree spar­row and the doves are al­ready call­ing their mates. I heard them do­ing that on Fri­day.”

“The Canada Geese ar­rived early and some have al­ready cou­pled. Some no longer even nest in the south but in­stead are nest­ing near the Ma­gog River. Many ducks have also cou­pled.” Ac­cord­ing to Mr. Dion, al­most all of the birds that spend the sum­mer in this re­gion have al­ready ar­rived. “We used to get early springs be­fore, but then we would get a ‘tem­pete des corneilles’ as they used to say. The birds that had come back too early would die of hunger. But the weather is not like that any­more,” said the nona­ge­nar­ian. Only the bug-eat­ing birds re­main to ar­rive. “I saw a swal­low in the gar­den yes­ter­day, but he didn’t re­turn to­day. He must have gone back to the marsh for food.”

First speak­ing in French with Mr. Dion, we had to switch to English to talk about birds since I was so un­fa­mil­iar with the French names. And when I did re­mem­ber a French name, like the ‘rouge-gorge’, I found out that it was also called the Merle d’amerique. “English peo­ple have kept the old tra­di­tional names for all the birds. French peo­ple change the names of the birds,” ex­plained Mr. Dion, men­tion­ing the var­i­ous French names for the flicker like the pic flam­boy­ant and the poule des bois. “I be­gan study­ing birds when I was five years old and I’m ninety now, so I’ve seen the names change of­ten. When I was young I spent three months on Bon­aven­ture Is­land with the guardian of the is­land to learn about gan­nets, ra­zor­bills and other sea birds. While I was there I learnt all the names of the birds in English and now I can still re­mem­ber those names be­cause they haven’t changed!”

Nat­u­rally, Mr. Dion had some sug­ges­tions for peo­ple want­ing to at­tract birds to their own gar­dens. “A blue­bird house is the best one to build. Be­sides be­ing for blue­birds, it will also be used by tree swal­lows, chick­adees and wrens.” Bushes and trees that pro­vide ei­ther food or cover in­clude dog­woods, chokecherry trees, crab ap­ple trees, hawthorns, sumacs, Virginia creeper, el­der­berry, high­bush cran­br­erry and fir trees.

Although he’s ninety, Mr. Dion is show­ing no signs of slow­ing down. He re­cently pub­lished two books: Plumes de Ciel and Napoleon Alexan­dre Comeau au Smith­so­nian. “Napoleon Alexan­dre Comeau was the great­est bird writer in Canada,” he said. He’s now work­ing on three books at once: a new ver­sion of his book about gar­den­ing for birds; a book on how to build bird­houses; and a book that will fo­cus on white birds.

To learn more about An­dré and France Dion, to or­der books or take part in their nest­ing box cam­paign, visit the Fon­da­tion France and An­dré Dion web­site.

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