Wis. DNR Outdoor Report

Posted at: 01/31/2014 7:16 PM

The ice caves on the South Shore have been attracting thousands of visitors.
The ice caves on the South Shore have been attracting thousands of visitors.
Photo: Photo by Darren Danielson

Some very cold temperatures have continued across Wisconsin and the nation this week, but fortunately seem to be letting up a little for the weekend. Temperatures as low as 20 below were reported again early this week. Temperatures are forecast for the mid-teens this Saturday, before again dropping down to single digits. Most of the state also received additional snowfall in the last week, with central Wisconsin receiving the most, with 4 to 6 inches of new snow.

Snowmobile trails are now open in most counties and conditions range from excellent in the north to fair to good in the south, with only a few counties reporting poor conditions on the Wisconsin Department of Tourism's snow conditions report. Cross-country ski trails are generally good to excellent across the entire state, though strong winds in the last week have caused drifting on trails. The good snow conditions and milder temperatures are timely, as there are 10 candlelight skis and hikes scheduled this weekend.

In what one fisheries biologist describes as an "old and tired song," the brutally cold weather of the past week has kept both angling pressure and fish activity to a minimum. In the north, some diehard panfish and walleye anglers did make it out over the weekend and found very limited action. Up to 3 to 4 inches of slush under the snow is making travel very difficult.

Along Lake Michigan some walleye were being caught at the Menominee River, perch were being caught off Oconto and whitefish were being caught along the east shore of Green Bay in Brown County. Along Door County the few anglers venturing out continued to have some success with whitefish and northern pike. A few brown and rainbow trout continue to be reported from southeastern Lake Michigan harbors.

State wildlife officials are paying close attention to winter's impacts on the state's deer herd. They are also asking the public to report any observations of winter deer mortalities. Biologists monitor the effects of winter on the deer herd using a Winter Severity Index, which uses a combination of cold temperatures and deep snows to gauge winter stress levels. Several stations in the far northwestern counties have already surpassed the severe category. Farther south and east, many stations will likely hit the severe classifications later this winter.

Biologists say that the first question people usually ask is whether they should start feeding deer, and they caution that while feeding is well-intended, it can do more harm than good if done improperly. They urge people who want to feed deer to talk a local DNR wildlife biologist first for advice, because feeding straight corn and hay can be harmful to deer. And people need to remember that feeding deer is strictly regulated, and is prohibited in any county affected by CWD. In all other counties, feeding is currently limited to a maximum of 2 gallons per site. For details, search the DNR website for "baiting and feeding regulations."

Tree sparrows, juncos, cardinals, chickadees, woodpeckers, horned larks, nuthatches, blue jays, and tufted titmice are active at feeders, which have also been attracting a few northern shrikes, Cooper's hawks and sharp-shinned that prey upon the songbirds or small mammals. . Snowy owls continue to dominate headlines as nearly 250 individuals have been tallied across the state.

Statewide Birding Report

With few winter finches and little open water, winter birding remains rather slow across Wisconsin. Snowy owls continue to dominate headlines as nearly 250 individuals have been tallied across the state. Though not unprecedented, this does rank among the largest record irruptions in recent memory, now even surpassing the big flight of 2011-12. Hotspots this year include the Freedom area of eastern Outagamie County, east of Janesville in Rock County, Buena Vista Marsh in Portage County, the Milwaukee lakefront, and the Highway 29 corridor from Menomonie east through Chippewa Falls and Taylor County to Wausau. However, nearly all parts of the state are now hosting some Snowies (see map), many of which will linger until heading north again in mid-late March. In other news, believe it or not despite the snow and cold nesting season is underway. Great horned owls are typically the state's earliest nesting species and the first active nest with eggs was reported on the Jan. 29. Their calling activity, aimed at courtship and territory defense, also has been especially high in recent weeks. Bald eagles are congregating in excellent numbers near traditional open water sources near Cassville, Prairie du Sac, and Sauk City, while rarer golden eagles have been reported away from waterways on bluffs of the Driftless Area in southwestern counties. Winter finches seem unlikely to make an appearance this year -- crossbills, redpolls, and grosbeaks have been nearly non-existent in the state and region. Rare birds spotted this week include gyrfalcons in Door and Portage counties, northern hawk-owl in Door, varied thrushes in Eau Claire and Winnebago, and Townsend's solitaires at Devil's Lake State Park. Please help us track and conserve bird populations by reporting your sightings to ebird.org/wi.
- Ryan Brady, Bureau of Wildlife Management research scientist, Ashland

Regional reports

Brule River State Forest - The snow has certainly been adding up this winter. While it may be difficult for many people and some wildlife, the one benefit of the snow depth is that it has been insulating the ground and even with the long stretch of cold, there is very little frost in the ground. Someday, when spring finally makes an appearance the snow, instead of running off, water will be able to gradually soak into the ground. This in turn will recharge the wetlands, lakes, and groundwater. The Afterhours Ski Trail has been benefitting from the extra snow...the trail system has an estimated 15 inch trail base now. The trails are being re-groomed and should be in great shape for the weekend. On Sunday, Feb. 2 there is Learn to Ski Day. Ski club volunteers will provide free instruction for beginning skate or classic skiing at the Afterhours Ski Trail in Brule. Be ready to ski starting at 12:30 p.m. with your own equipment or by renting equipment through the club. Trail passes or memberships are not required. Pre-registration is appreciated and required for those renting equipment through the club. Pre-registration must be made by 7 p.m. of the Thursday night preceding each learn-to-ski afternoon. To pre-register or to rent skis, call Phil Anderson at 715-372-5004. Be sure to provide your name, age, and phone number. For those renting equipment, provide your shoe size and approximate height and weight for each person. Rental of skis, boots and poles costs $5 for each youngster 12 and under and $15 for all others. Rentals must be checked out at the trailhead warming hut between noon and 12:30 p.m. and returned no later than 3 p.m. Everyone must sign a release form. Children must have a signed release form by a parent or guardian. The Learn-To-Ski afternoons are sponsored by the Brule Valley Ski Club, the Brule River State Forest and the Brule Lions Club.
- Catherine Khalar, visitor services associate

Crex Meadows State Wildlife - We're still in the deep freeze at Crex, which does make it a challenge to take part in winter activities and search for wildlife. Red-tailed hawks, woodpeckers, nuthatches, and snow buntings are some of the birds hanging around the Wildlife Area. There were no sightings of snowy owls this week. The 1.25 mile trail behind visitor center is in the process of being groomed. Email your bird and other wildlife sightings to: bigyear@crexmeadows.org
- Kristi Pupak, natural resources educator

Upper Chippewa Basin fisheries report (Price, Rusk, Sawyer Taylor and inland Ashland and Iron counties) - This is becoming an old and tired song, but the brutally cold weather of the past week has kept both angling pressure and fish activity to a minimum. Sub-zero high temperatures and windy conditions have kept most anglers off of the ice, with a few of the coldest days seeing virtually no fishing activity on many lakes. Some diehard panfish and walleye anglers did make it out over the weekend and found very limited action. The panfish anglers had to use some finesse tactics and a few were able to catch a few decent crappie and perch. Walleye and northern pike action has basically reached a standstill, with just a few medium-size fish being reported. Most lakes in the area now have about 16 to 18 inches of ice with anywhere from 6 to 12 inches of snow on top. In addition, areas of slush have been showing up on many lakes, with some spots having 3 to 4 inches of water under the snow cover. This has made for some difficult travel conditions and many 4-wheel drive vehicles have even been getting stuck.
- Skip Sommerfeldt, senior fisheries biologist, Park Falls