Let’s Go Birding With the Wisco Birder
Dexter Patterson, aka Wisco Birder, shares his passion along with an inspiring message: birding is for everyone.
Dexter Patterson never imagined that a global health crisis would provide the nudge he needed to openly unleash his inner birder. But when cabin fever from the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns became unbearable, he sought refuge in the great outdoors.
Psst–here’s why birding will boost your mental health.
Breathing fresh air and taking in lush landscapes was therapeutic. Even the slightest glimpse of feathered fowl on his weekly hikes fanned an already-existing passion, which he decided to share with the world through his social media pages.
In the past, he had been hesitant to open up. “I really hadn’t been public with it until the last couple of years because there was a little bit of a fear factor in me. I didn’t know what people were going to think,” says Dexter, who is Black. “Like, ‘Birds? Dex is into birds?’ I didn’t know what people would think about it because, growing up, I had never met a Black birder.”
Sharing His Passion Online
Dexter, who teaches photography and works as a social media manager in Madison, Wisconsin, dusted off his cherished Panasonic camera and posted weekly pictures of beautiful birds on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. His online fan base mushroomed and the Wisco Birder—or as he describes himself “the flyest birder you’ll ever meet”—was born.
Alongside posts about football and current events, Dexter’s social media timelines are stacked with photos and musings about an array of birds at scenic spots across the Badger State and surrounding region. Highlights of his feed include yellow-headed blackbirds, Blackburnian warblers, common yellowthroats, short-billed dowitchers and green herons.
Dexter’s interest in birds began a decade earlier when he met Jeff Galligan, his former adviser in college, and learned that Jeff was a Black birder.
They grew closer in 2018 after Dexter shared with Jeff a video of an osprey snatching a fish straight out of the water. Jeff, who sits on the Madison Audubon Society’s board of directors, responded by sharing his own pictures of an osprey in action. Remembering the moment, Dexter says, “I was so impressed that he’d actually seen that bird in real life.” The two immediately bonded, then exchanged images for years.
Check out this list of birdwatching gear and supplies to get started.
On Juneteenth in 2021, they agreed it was time to launch the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) Birding Club of Wisconsin. Avid birder Rita Flores Wiskowski soon joined the club as its Milwaukee chapter coordinator. “Together,” Jeff says, “we have created the environment to attract people of color to our birding community.”
Join the Club
The BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin aims to encourage and inspire more people of color, a group largely underrepresented in the pastime, to get outdoors and into birding. The club welcomes anyone who supports diversity, equity and inclusion.
Dexter and Jeff advertised the club’s first meetup on social media. To their surprise, more than a dozen people showed up at that first gathering at Nine Springs Creek in Dane County, Wisconsin. Now their family-friendly jaunts at local parks and nature preserves draw upwards of 100 enthusiasts, including Asian, African American, Latino, Native American and multiracial birders of all ages.
“We do tours of beautiful places,” Dexter says. The club has visited the International Crane Foundation and the Aldo Leopold Foundation, partnering with organizations such as Madison Audubon, the Feminist Bird Club chapter in Madison and other groups that serve underrepresented or underserved populations in Wisconsin.
Birding is for Everyone
Dexter loves the simplicity, affordability and accessibility of birding. “All you have to do is look up,” he says.
The club leaders prefer to skip the formalities of other birding organizations, keeping their events playful yet scientific.
“We have fun and we take a very low-key approach to birding. It’s way different from what you see in a lot of these traditional birding spaces,” says Dexter. “We don’t shush people. We don’t tell people to be quiet. When people say, ‘It’s my first time ever birding,’ we clap. The whole group claps for them and we say ‘Welcome to the flock!’ ”
Creating a Space of Welcome
Member Jasmine Banks learned about the club after listening to an interview with Dexter. She says the group opened up a world of exploration.
“When I listened to Dexter’s interview on a podcast, it was as if he was talking directly to me,” says Jasmine. “He was inviting me to join a group created for me, because I am a Black person. A space where I wouldn’t feel like an outsider, but [feel] welcomed.”
Earlier this year, the group helped Madison Audubon celebrate Black Birders Week, a national event inspired by the infamous incident in New York’s Central Park involving Black birder Christian Cooper, who now hosts Extraordinary Birder on the National Geographic network.
When it comes to the future of the BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin, Jeff says only the sky is the limit. The accessible hobby is becoming a gateway through which more diverse groups are exposed to new outdoor activities and spaces, he notes, adding, “Birding is amazing!”
Get to Know Dexter
This is like picking a favorite kid. But if I had to pick one, it would be my initial “spark bird,” the osprey.
My Nocs Provisions Pro Issue 10×42 binoculars.
My Panasonic mirrorless camera.
Favorite bird hot spot?
Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin.
Bucket list bird?
Best birding advice?
Birding is for everyone, even you!
Next, see how you can be an urban birder by checking out birds in cities.