Bird champions keep busy
Ornithologist and author, André Dion, and his wife, France, remain as dedicated and active as ever in their roles as champions of our fine feathered friends. Having written over twenty books on the subject, at 92 years of age, Mr. Dion has just
released a new one dedicated to the cherished little chickadee, France is getting ready to host the 2015 annual conference of the North American Bluebird Society, and, together, they have just finished some interesting experiments that may improve the health and survival rate of young Eastern Bluebirds.
“We set up several Bluebird houses at Bleu Lavande. Some had lavender inside them, to keep away bugs, others didn’t,” explained Mr. Dion about the experiment to ‘teach’ Bluebirds to use lavender in their nests, the way chickadees do, to keep the nest and young birds bugfree. “A pair of Bluebirds came and chose the lavender birdhouse. They raised five babies there during the summer,” he said. Mr. Dion got a surprise when he opened the birdhouse, soon after the birds had vacated it, and reached down to get the nest to examine it. “There was one bird still left in the nest – a big lazy one!”
The nest that was retrieved after the last Bluebird finally flew off was quite clean and bugfree; a nice outcome for these birds who have notoriously bug-ridden nests.
One could say that André Dion’s newest book dedicated to the industrious and well-mannered black-capped chickadee, On fait ami ami, had a ‘heavenly’ co-author: his grandfather, Alphonse St. Vincent. “I wanted to write this book to pay homage to my grandfather. Without his notes I could not have written this book,” explained André, referring to eleven copybooks of notes and observations made about chickadees that his grandfather gave him when he was only nine years of age.
“He had a big pine tree behind his house that was full of chickadees. He adopted those birds, took notes, and became like a genius on chickadees. He took care of them like his children.”
According to Mr. Dion, the notebooks were not well-written, often just a few words put together instead of complete sen- tences. It sometimes took decades of his own chickadee observations before André understood what some of the ‘coded’ observations of his grandfather meant. In On fait ami ami, which is written in French, many fascinating secrets of how the diminutive chickadees survive and thrive, especially in our cold winters, are revealed.
It was many years after André read the words “mesanges, igloo, cedre” (chickadees, igloo, cedar) in his grandfather’s notebook that he solved that riddle. Knocking a thick covering of snow off of a cedar hedge in his yard, he discovered little holes in the snow that the chickadees had built to sleep in at night, to keep safe from predators and warm. Another interesting fact revealed in the book is how, during the winter, the down of a chickadee will weigh one quarter of the chickadee’s weight!
Although penned by Mr. Dion, France works alongside her husband when he writes, typing out his hand-written notes over and over again as he perfects his texts. “We really innovated with this book. We decided to go with only black and white photos because the chickadees are black and white, and because the book is more about Andre’s memories, one hundred and fifty years of history of the life of chickadees,” said France. The photographs, most by nature photographer Jean-Guy Morisset, highlight the chickadees beauty and bring to light the many attributes of this remarkable bird.
Now that André’s 23rd book has been completed, France has more time to spend on the organization of the prestigious North American Bluebird Society’s 2015 Conference, which will take place in the St. Paulin region and in the Eastern Townships. “The members of the North American Bluebird Society will stay at the Baluchon, in Saint Paulin, where we’ll inaugurate the Musee de Dion (bird museum). It’s nice at Le Baluchon, but there aren’t many birds
there. So next week we’ll be installing one hundred Bluebird nesting boxes,” explained France. When the mayor of Saint Paulin heard about the visit of the North American Bluebird Society and the one hundred birdhouses, he offered to have them installed along the eight kilometres of road from St. Paulin to Le Baluchon, an ‘eco-resort’, and have the route renamed “la route de merlebleu”.
During the 2015 conference, members of the Society will also visit Bleu Lavande, to learn about the lavender nesting boxes, and the Dion’s bird garden, at their home in Magog. It should be mentioned that France and André Dion have been connected to the North American Bluebird Society for many decades and were honored by that organization in 1988 for their contribution to the return of the Eastern Bluebird to Quebec.
Still working closely together on so many projects after over fifty years, I asked the lively couple if it was sometimes difficult to work together. “Yes! Yes!” they both answered candidly and enthusiastically, but with smiles.
For more information about the work of France and André Dion, visit www. fondationdesdion.com
André and France Dion are seen here in their Magog home with André’s new book, On fait ami ami, and the pristine Eastern Bluebird nest that was retrieved from a nesting box.
An Eastern Bluebird, a threatened species, perched on a nesting box set up at Bleu Lavande.