Bird cham­pi­ons keep busy

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Magog

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

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

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.

Photo cour­tesy

An East­ern Blue­bird, a threat­ened species, perched on a nest­ing box set up at Bleu La­vande.

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