“Your passion can allow you to connect with people from all walks of life.” said Gabriel, “You should find what makes you unique and follow it to the ends of the earth.”
Halcyon held its second Inspiring Voices speaker series on 04 May and once again it was a full house. This time the guest speakers were Gabriel Jamie, Cambridge PhD student in Zoology, and Tim Dee, BBC radio producer and author - both sharing a passion for birds. They engaged in an inspirational and interactive conversation, surprising the audience with fascinating insights into bird behaviour.
It was the combination of Gabriel’s passion about birds, his humanistic upbringing and his education that enabled him to turn his passion into a profession.
Ever since he was 11, he visited his grandmother in South Africa and went searching on fishing trawlers to observe the vast numbers of albatrosses perching on the fishing nets. He had his moment of revelation when watching the overwhelming size and wingspan of these birds flying in the evening sky. This made a deep and lasting impression on him.
From then on, throughout his teenage years, he went birdwatching every Sunday just outside of London getting up at 0300, his dad supporting his interest to investigate and ring* birds. His peers could not categorise him; they simply didn’t understand him. For some time he felt isolated. Only when he was 16 and went on his first expedition, did he find like-minded peers. He went to many different parts of the world to explore and study birds; from Romania to Zambia to northern Mozambique. His expeditions led him to study Biology at Cambridge, where he is presently in his final year of his PhD in Zoology, specialising in the mimicry of bird markings and calls like the Honeyguide bird and the Cuckoo family of birds.
Although Tim’s passion for birds started even earlier than Gabriel’s, at the age of seven on the Balearic Islands, the impact was similar. He was captivated by collecting, organising and classifying birds, giving him a sense of “knowing where you are”. As a young boy he once asked a famous bird scientist to take him along to one of his expeditions. The answer he received was revealing and is still valid for him today: “Go local, go deep. Get switched on by what you have close.” It was these conversations with experts in the field that let both Tim and Gabriel to advance in their learnings. They both wanted to engage in the subject not passively, but actively sharing it.
“It’s sad that young people are suppressing their interests. They’ve tried to become generalists. Rarely do they come to me with a specialism.” said Tim about his budding young producers. “Everyone has these deep shafts of knowledge and what I want to hear from them is a willingness to access these.”
Ultimately, Gabriel realised that by placing a subject into a wider context, such as studying birds and ecology, it would enable him to redefine the importance of studying birds for himself and the world of science. When asked what amazes him the most, he explains:
“Plants, trees, fruits - it’s the whole ecology that is amazing - the co-evolutionary interaction. It’s all about understanding the co-dependence of the whole system. Economics is the management of the household, ecology is the understanding of the household.”
The evening was a success. Many members of our community brought friends and family and our speakers inspired the audience with their passion for an exotic world we can all explore that’s both in our back gardens and abroad.
*catching birds humanely to place a ring on them so, when released, they can be tracked and identified in the future.
By Noah W. (G11)