Wis. DNR Outdoor Report: Spring Advances Northward

Posted at: 04/25/2014 5:17 PM

Bloodroot is blooming in the Kettle Moraine
Bloodroot is blooming in the Kettle Moraine
Photo: Wisconsin DNR photo

Despite some flurries still falling on Thursday, it appears that spring is slowly arriving in the Northwoods. Most of the state is now free of snow on the ground, with the exception of heavily wooded areas in the far north that still have a foot or more of snow. Spring is progressing rapidly in the south, with reports of bloodroot and round lobed hepatica blooming in the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.

Lots of anglers are wondering whether lakes will be ice free in the Northwoods by the May 3 general inland fishing opener. While it depends on the weather between now and then, at this point most lakes still have upwards of 15 inches of ice covering them, so there is a definite possibility that the larger, deeper lakes will still be ice covered, so anglers may want to have alternate plans such as fishing flowages, lakes and spring ponds, as well as streams and rivers.

While northern lakes are still ice covered, access is poor with shorelines having a lot of soft grainy ice and a fringe of open water, so for the most part, the ice angling season has ended. Spring walleye fishing on rivers that remain open year round for game fish had been excellent on some waters, especially northern Lake Michigan tributaries and the Fox, Wolf, Wisconsin and Rock rivers. Action slowed this week, though, with mostly males reported, indicating runs may be coming to a close.

The first signs of the Lake Winnebago sturgeon spawning season were reported this week with pre-spawn activities at numerous sites. As spawning gets closer, male sturgeon actively cruise near the rocked shorelines of sturgeon spawning sites. This "cruising" activity was observed Wednesday afternoon at numerous known spawning sites on the Wolf River.

Lake Michigan tributaries were generally running high and muddy but trout and salmon anglers were having some success for steelhead on the East and West Twin Rivers, Menomonee, Root and Pike rivers. A reminder, the early catch and release inland trout season closes this Sunday, April 27.

The spring turkey season is now open and turkeys are starting to break away from the winter flocks. Hunters in the first turkey period saw mild temperatures and conditions overall. With the snow melting in the north, deer have begun to disperse from their deer yards, with many being seen feeding on the grass that has just begun to green up.

The spring bird migration is ramping up, with the vanguard of warblers, including yellow-rumps, palm, pine, orange-crowned, hooded, black-and-white, and northern waterthrush seen in the south. The first whip-poor-wills have returned to the south as well. Overhead, the first kettles of broad-winged hawks have reached Wisconsin from their central and south America wintering areas. Loons are staging on southern lakes such as Mendota and Monona in Madison waiting for ice-out on northern lakes.

This Saturday will be the best opportunity to help out in state parks, with a dozen properties holding Work*Play*Earth Day events. Help out cleaning parks and doing minor maintenance projects in the morning and then stick around to enjoy the park in the afternoon. For information, search the DNR website for Work Play Earth Day.

Statewide Birding Report

Migration is ramping up statewide. Birders across the south were excited to find the vanguard of warblers, including yellow-rumps, palm, pine, orange-crowned, hooded, black-and-white, and northern waterthrush, although numbers of most remain low yet. A few rose-breasted grosbeaks have also been reported, but no Baltimore orioles or ruby-throated hummingbirds. The first whip-poor-wills have returned to the south as well. Flooded fields and wetlands with open water are hotspots right now, featuring good duck diversity, flocks of Bonaparte's gulls, marsh birds such as American bittern, Virginia rail, sora, and the first yellow-headed blackbirds, marsh wrens, and swamp sparrows. Shorebird migration is also picking up with reports of black-necked stilts, Wilson's phalaropes, solitary, least, pectoral, and spotted sandpipers, semipalmated plover, and higher numbers of both greater and lesser yellowlegs. Overhead, the first kettles of broad-winged hawks have reached Wisconsin from their central and south America wintering areas. Keep an eye to the sky for these flocks over the next few weeks and you may be treated to a rare Swainson's hawk among them! Many birds were moving across Wisconsin on warm winds this past Easter weekend. This brought a major flush of short-distance migrants to the snowy/icy Northwoods, including dark-eyed juncos, fox sparrows, yellow-rumped warblers, both kinglets, eastern phoebes, purple finches, robins, blackbirds, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, and more. One observer tallied 432 N. Flickers in Iron County. Waterfowl diversity has greatly accelerated with nearly all species represented, though many are using flooded fields as lakes and wetlands remain frozen. Common loons remain scarce for this reason, building in numbers across southern and central Wisconsin stopover sites. Rarities were plenty this week and in part included mountain bluebird in Burnett County, summer tanager in Columbia, Smith's longspurs in Dane, little gulls in Milwaukee, eared grebe in Jefferson, varied thrush in Brown, and red-throated loons in Bayfield. As always, help us track the migration by reporting sightings to Wisconsin eBird at www.ebird.org/wi. Good birding!

- Ryan Brady, Bureau of Wildlife Management research scientist, Ashland

Regional reports

Brule River State Forest - The area looks like a patchwork quilt of snow. Many fields are increasingly becoming snow free but the forested areas are still snow covered. The areas that are exposed are beginning to show some green. While we are experiencing cooler weather again (low 40s), the rain will certainly help with the snowmelt. The Bois Brule River is flowing high and muddy due to the runoff from the snow. Normally the Copper Range Campground has numerous fishermen during this time of year; this year only a handful of fishermen have camped this spring due to the snow conditions and high water. People that are planning on canoeing or kayaking the river should keep in mind that the river is flowing fast...be aware of current conditions when planning your trip. Ice around lakes and ponds are beginning to recede from the shorelines, but there is still quite a bit of ice to melt before the general fish opener on May 3.

- Catherine Khalar, visitor services associate

Bayfield County - The Madeline Island Ferry broke through up to 24 inches of ice on Monday, April 21. This was its first trip of the year. Anglers were reporting 30 inches of ice in some places on Lake Superior and continue to fish Chequamegon Bay and Bark Bay. Snow levels in the forested areas of northern Bayfield County still have pockets of snow reaching 18 inches but are averaging approximately 8 inches. South facing hills and yards are seeing spring with daffodils close to blooming and patches of green grass. Spring peepers have not yet been heard. Water levels in the tributaries of Lake Superior are flooding and are flowing quickly preventing fishing activity. There is more snow in the forecast yet for the Northwoods but the residents are ready for spring.

- Lynna Gurnoe, conservation warden, Bayfield

Spring has arrived in the Northwoods, and in southern Bayfield County there have been observations this week of great blue heron, sandhill cranes, wood ducks, night hawks, woodcock and numerous song birds. Buds can be seen on many of the local trees. In the surrounding area, one does not have to look far and to see snow in the woods, and the larger area lakes still have up to 2 feet of ice on them. Crappie were being taken on Lake Namakagon this past weekend but those drilling the holes have stated the ice has become very honeycomb. Deer have begun to disperse from their deer yards, with many locals commenting that "their deer are back." Many deer are being seen feeding on the grass that has just begun to green up.

- Jill Schartner, conservation warden, Drummond

Burnett County - Waterfowl viewing near Crex Meadows and Fish Lake wildlife areas has been very good. Geese in the area have established nests and will be sitting on them for the next few weeks (about 25 days).Turkey movement in the area has been good with the recent melting on the snow pack. The St. Croix River has high water levels because of the recent snow melt. Always use caution when adventuring out on the St. Croix River, water levels can change rapidly because of rainfall events outside of the immediate area. As the warmer weather continues please think about removing bird feeders to avoid unwanted black bear encounters.

- Christopher Spaight conservation warden, Grantsburg

Interstate Park - Most hiking trails are open; however, some trails may have areas with ice or mud. A portion of Lake O' the Dalles Hiking Trail is flooded. The St. Croix River has flooded low-lying areas; boating is not recommended. Ice remains on some of Lake O' the Dalles. Watch for large birds including bald eagles, turkey vultures, red tailed hawks, and great blue herons soaring overhead. Deer are easy to spot throughout the park. All campgrounds are open. The shower/flush toilet facility in the North Campground will reopen prior to the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Water is currently available at the Ice Age Center and outside the Stone Building. The River Bottoms picnic area is closed due to flooding.

- Julie Fox, natural resources educator

Washburn County - At Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area there were some sharp-tail hawks, and what may possibly be a swainson hawk seen Wednesday morning. Wolves have been heard howling. Many sparrows, brown thrasher and bluebirds were seen in the great weather. Visit the Barrens for a walk. There also are some days still available to sit in the turkey blinds.

- Nancy Christel, wildlife biologist, Spooner

Upper Chippewa Basin fisheries report (Price, Rusk, Sawyer Taylor and inland Ashland and Iron counties) - Ice conditions have continued to slowly deteriorate on lakes across the Northwoods, though most lakes still have upwards of 15 inches of ice covering them. Access areas, as well as the north and west shorelines, have a lot of soft grainy ice and a fringe of open water. In addition, open water has also developed around the inlets and outlet streams. For the most part, the ice angling season has ended and there have only been a few daring panfish anglers out in the past week. No reports of any success have been received. With the current conditions, it is almost a given that many lakes across the north will still have some ice cover for the fishing opener on May 3. The larger, deeper lakes are almost sure to be iced-up yet and as such, anglers should have alternate plans in case their favorite lake is still ice covered. These alternate waters could include the smaller flowages, lakes and spring ponds, as well as area streams and rivers. Yet these areas will be running high with snow melt water. A few of the possibilities for open-water fishing in the area may include the North Fork Flambeau River, Chequamegon Waters Flowage, the Phillips Chain of Lakes and Lake Hayward.

- Skip Sommerfeldt, senior fisheries biologist, Park Falls

Price County - A fair number of deer are hitting the open fields now that the snow has melted off again after the last 12 inch snowfall. The wooded areas still have deep patchy snow and frost in those areas. Most stream and rivers are flooded above the banks and many gravel roads in remote public land areas are very soft with the frost going out. All natural lakes are still ice covered. The 10 day forecast does not look very promising for the ice to be gone for the opening of the game fish season.

- Dan Michels, conservation warden, Park Falls

Flambeau River State Forest - Local lakes still have ice on them, but should be open for the fishing opener. Both the South and North forks of the Flambeau River are open. Winter still refuses to let go. We are having snow once more, but have had a few nice days this past week. The previous snow has pretty much melted except for where it has been banked up and hopefully the new snow won't stay for long. We are seeing pussy willows , spring beauties and the aspen buds are starting to swell. Spring peepers are out , turkeys are gobbling and bears are out of their dens.

- Judy Freeman, visitor services associate