Under Wingate’s wing, Mejías takes flight
A student taken under the wing of the island’s most famous conservationist has followed in his footsteps by studying for a doctorate in the study of birds.
Miguel Mejías, 32, said that he expected to finish his PhD in ornithology at a university in Canada in the next two years.
He credited David Wingate, who he nicknamed “Gramps”, with not only firing his enthusiasm for the subject, but for making him feel part of his family.
Mr Mejías said: “I always affectionately refer to him as “Gramps” because I never had a grandfather figure growing up, let alone an idol.
“He’s given me a sense of purpose and I’m for ever grateful for that.”
Mr Mejías, a graduate of CedarBridge Academy and Bermuda College, said that he had studied under Mr Wingate for about nine years, but had known him since he was a child. He explained that he lived in the same area of Hamilton Parish, where Mr Wingate was a “neighbourhood legend”.
Mr Mejías added: “I have vivid memories of seeing this older gentleman birdwatching along the garden edges and things, not realising this was David Wingate.
“Mr Wingate was just so much of a legend. I knew he was significant in terms of Bermuda, but I did not know exactly what he had done.”
Mr Mejías said that he got to know Mr Wingate in 2011 when a mutual friend invited him on a birdwatching trip. He added that the trip had been arranged to cheer him up after his original dream of a career as a marine biologist was torpedoed.
Mr Mejías explained: “I took a diving test and I actually failed the diving component.
“That was very hard for me to accept back then, because I was so certain that I was going to be a marine biologist working in Bermuda, but yet here I was a teenager and I couldn’t equalise my ears.”
However, Mr Mejías said: “I joined Mr Wingate on a birdwatching trip and I was just fascinated by how much he knew.
“He realised I had a knack for bird ID and he informed me that it’s not just a hobby, this could actually become a career.
“It was just a simple birdwatching expedition, but ever since then David and I have pretty much been inseparable.”
Mr Mejías, who is studying at Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada, said his research centred around the nesting and singing behaviour of the white-eyed vireo.
The bird is native to Bermuda and also found around the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern United States. Mr Mejías explained that he conducted his research on the island and had tracked several vireos since 2017.
Mr Mejías said that his research has found that male vireos had territories of up 150ft, or almost 46m, and could lose a mate to their neighbour, if the pair could not build a nest within 12 days.
Mr Mejías added that every bird had a unique “language” with up to nine different vocalisations. He said that every call shared similarities to neighbouring white-eyed vireos, which could be a pointer to where the bird was hatched.
Mr Mejías added he hoped to return to Bermuda and become a conservationist. Mr Wingate said he was “more than proud” of Mr Mejías’s achievements. He added that he had seen his potential since their first birdwatching expedition.
Dr Wingate said: “I quickly discovered that he had a brilliant mind for bird identification and became very enthusiastic and excited by that, and it just went from there.
“He always felt like a member of the family. I almost feel like he was a foster son in a way.
“We’ve become great friends and he’s just gone from strength to strength. He’s extended his education way beyond mine and I just couldn’t be more proud of him.”
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