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Outdoor Report for March 13, 2014
View current conditions for Wisconsin State Parks, Trails and Forests
Check out the Wisconsin Department of Tourism (exit DNR).
For current statewide information on statewide snow conditions, log onto the Wisconsin Department of Tourism's Snow Conditions Report (exit DNR).
Some very warm weather early in the week, reaching into the 50s statewide, has taken a toll on winter sports conditions, especially in the southern half of the state. The warm weather melted a lot of snow in a hurry leaving a muddy mess in far southern areas and water standing in many fields and yards. Many southern facing slopes in the south are now snow free, much to the delight of wildlife.
In the north, however, while snow settled some with the warm up, the deep snow persists. Snowmobile trails remain open and are still being reported as good to very good in many northern counties on the Department of Tourism's Snow Conditions Report (exit DNR). Most state park and forest properties are reporting that cross-country ski grooming is likely over for the season, unless the state receives another big snowfall. Trails in the south are generally in poor condition, and while trails in the north are snow-covered, they have been icy in the mornings and soft and slushy as temperatures warm throughout the day.
State wildlife officials continue to monitor the harsh winter's impact on deer and turkey. They continue to ask the public's help in reporting any dead deer or turkeys to local wildlife biologists. And responding to many hunters' concerns over turkey populations in the north, wildlife officials have announced that they will reduce the number of over-the-counter spring turkey permits available in some northern units.
Northern Wisconsin lakes are still solidly locked in ice, with 22 to 30 inches on most lakes with layers of slush on top, making travel very difficult. Lakes in southern Wisconsin have just begun to show signs of early break-up with some landings and shorelines having open water, especially near inlets and outlets. Wardens are cautioning people against driving any vehicles on river systems as they are also beginning to open up.
Ice fishing pressure has been pretty non-existent in the north, but this week's warm weather did trigger some good panfish action on southern and central Wisconsin lakes. The milder weather brought out more anglers last weekend on Green Bay, where anglers continue to fish though deep ice with success for whitefish and northern pike reported along the east and west shore. There is some more open water in southeastern Lake Michigan harbors, but most are still locked in ice and anglers continue to catch brown and rainbow trout through the ice.
Raccoon, skunk, muskrat, mink, and opossum activity has increased as temperatures are increasing and snow is receding. River otter sign along creeks and streams may be more evident this time of year as male otters increase their movements during the March to April breeding season. Fox and gray squirrels are feeding furiously on nuts and seeds that have remained buried all winter under snow and ice, and males are actively pursuing females.
The spring bird migration is off to a tempered start with arrival of small numbers of sandhill cranes, red-winged blackbirds, and American robins in the south. Waterfowl rank among the earliest migrants and a good diversity of birds are now on the move. However, this winter's extensive ice cover continues to take a toll on many diving ducks as numerous dead birds are showing up along the Lake Michigan shoreline as ice recedes.
Statewide Birding Report
Spring migration is off to a tempered start with arrival of small numbers of sandhill cranes, red-winged blackbirds, and American robins in the south. Horned larks are being reported in good numbers, occasionally mixing with migrant snow buntings and Lapland longspurs on their way north. Other arrivals include Eastern meadowlarks, killdeer, great blue herons, rusty blackbirds, northern flickers, and purple finches, though most are limited to the southern half of the state and are still in below-average numbers for this time of year. Waterfowl rank among the earliest migrants and a good diversity of birds are now on the move where open water can be found. However, this winter's extensive ice cover continues to take a toll on many diving ducks as numerous birds have been found dead in Lake Michigan counties. Most if not all of these birds appear to have starved because adequate food resources could not be reached. Some birds have also been found injured or stranded inland, having mistaken wet roads or other dark surfaces for water in their desperate attempt to find suitable habitat. Ice melt this past week may somewhat alleviate the problem but expect additional carcasses to surface for weeks ahead. If you find a stranded/sick/emaciated bird contact your local DNR office or wildlife rehabilitator. Elsewhere, some snowy owls are finally headed north. Many remain in the state, however, and chances of seeing one are still good through the end of the month. Great horned owls are laying eggs across south and central Wisconsin, red-tailed hawks are paired up, and northern saw-whet owls have begun their distinctive tooting call statewide. Expect a big influx of waterfowl, bald eagles, American woodcock, sandhill cranes, blackbirds, robins, and other short-distance migrants with each passing warm front. This is a great time to be a birder - get out there and enjoy the spectacle! And be sure to help us track the migration by reporting your sightings at www.ebird.org/wi (exit DNR).
- Ryan Brady, Bureau of Wildlife Management research scientist, Ashland
Superior DNR Service Center area
Brule River State Forest - Warmer temperatures have made quite a difference in the Brule area. The snow is settling and the Bois Brule River is mostly free of ice near the ranger station. The After Hours Ski Trail skate lanes were groomed March 12 and several trails were tracked. The groomers state that even after the warm temperatures in the past few days, we still have 12-13 inches of trail base and 20-plus inches of woods base. Roadsides are becoming bare, drawing ruffed grouse onto the roads, as they are searching for grit. Deer are also out on the roadsides, many are reluctant to leave the roadsides, especially as the surface of the snow becomes crusty. Other animals that are being noticed recently are raccoons, skunks, and bear. While most are still in their dens, some of these animals will come out during the warm days. It is time to start thinking about bringing in the bird feeders. People are reminded that burning permits are not required while we are snow covered but, depending on the upcoming temperatures, we could soon have bare ground and burning permits will be then be required. While it is much safer to burn while we are snow covered, people should still check the ashes to make sure the embers do not "hold over", only to reignite when the protective snow has melted. More information on burning and burning permits is available on the DNR website. Snow is still on the ground but DNR properties are preparing for the summer season. Numerous LTE (Limited Term Employee) positions are being advertised and many application deadlines are coming up. For more information please Limited Term Job Openings. - Catherine Khalar, visitor services associate
Park Falls DNR Service Center area
Upper Chippewa Basin fisheries report (Price, Rusk, Sawyer Taylor and inland Ashland and Iron counties) - Ice conditions remain relatively unchanged on lakes across the area. The ice cover ranges from 22 to 30 inches thick, with the upper third of that consisting of several layers of slush. This continues to make access conditions very tough, as most motorized vehicles just break right thru the first layer or two of slush. With these difficult access conditions, fishing pressures remains minimal and there have been very few panfish anglers out. The few anglers that have been out report low success, with just a few perch being caught at the 6 to 10 foot depths. - Skip Sommerfeldt, senior fisheries biologist, Park Falls
Woodruff DNR Service Center area
Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest - All cross-country ski trails were groomed/tracked March 8-10 with very good conditions. The warmer temperatures recently have taken its toll on the snow base. Melting then freezing has made grooming very demanding on the equipment. Crews have suspended grooming of the ski trails until conditions improve. - Tony Martinez, forestry facilities worker
Florence DNR at the Florence Natural Resource Center
Florence and Forest counties - Lost a little snow in Florence and Forest Counties early this week but renewed cold means snowmobile trails are still open. Thick crust on snow means snowshoeing could be great fun, but cross-country skiing trails won't be groomed unless we get more snow. Lakes have a lot of ice still on them, but flowages and rivers are starting to go bad. Use caution on the ice. Keyes Peak Ski Hill will be closed this weekend for snow-cross events. Deer and turkeys are starting to move around more with warmer weather. No major bird migration noted, but resident birds are more active in the mornings. - Anna Jahns, wildlife technician, Florence
Northern Lake Michigan fisheries team report - Compiled by David Boyarski, fisheries supervisor, Sturgeon Bay
Marinette County - Pike anglers fished from Thompson Park to south of Peshtigo Harbor in 4 to 12 feet of water using smelt and shiners. - Kevin King, fisheries technician, Peshtigo
Oconto County - Oconto Breakwater Park anglers targeted northern pike and whitefish. Pike anglers used dead smelt and large shiner minnows in 5 to 12 feet of water but success was low. The mouth of the Oconto River provided some action for whitefish using jigs tipped with minnow heads or wax worms and Swedish pimples. - Kevin King, fisheries technician, Peshtigo
Door County - Temperatures this past week fluctuated anywhere from 20 - 35 degrees but ice conditions remained good at 3 feet or more and fishing pressure picked up on the weekend. Anglers had trouble driving onto the ice at many access points and got stuck in icy snow especially at the Stone Quarry and Birmingham's. There was a lot of traffic at Birmingham's and the Stone Quarry; however, as anglers hoped to catch whitefish, northern pike and perch fishing from the Stone Quarry to about a mile or two to the north. Successful whitefish anglers used a combination of minnow heads and jigging stick baits or Swedish pimples and fished anywhere from 55 to 95 feet of water. Anglers off Birmingham's also targeted northern pike and found success using minnows in 15 feet of water. Only a few shanties remain in Sawyer Harbor as a majority of anglers fished off the Potawatomi Park launch to the shipping canal. A large amount of shanties about 2 miles from shore are visible off High Cliff and Cabot's Point. Bullhead Point had a few shanties within walking distance from shore and fishing pressure was high. - Bobbi Kolstad, fisheries technician, Sturgeon Bay
Peshtigo DNR Service Center area
Shawano County - Ice conditions are still difficult as far as travel out on area waters. But fishing is starting to get a little better with bluegills and perch picking up on area waters. Snowmobile trails are starting to close with warmer weather. Make sure to call the Shawano county trails association number to see what is open. - Jim Horne, conservation warden, Shawano
Green Bay DNR Service Center area
Brown County - Walleye fishing is starting to pick up on the Fox River in DePere. Fishing has been spotty but some large walleyes have been caught. The spring bag limit of one walleye and size limit of 28 inches is now in effect. Anglers need to be sure that all walleyes under 28 inches are returned to the water. This season the anglers are fishing through the ice but the ice is beginning to deteriorate. Anglers have been driving vehicles on the ice of the Fox River, which is not encouraged. It is very dangerous to drive vehicles on the ice of the Fox River because the Fox River ice is constantly changing. With warm weather predicted will make this that much more dangerous. There isn't a fish in the world worth one's life. Please do not drive your vehicles on the Fox River ice. Ice shacks on Green Bay need to be removed by March 16. Please get your permanent shacks off Green Bay by that deadline. If problems arise anglers should contact the DNR Hotline. - Darren Kuhn, marine unit conservation warden, Green Bay
The warmer temperatures have been a welcome change in Brown County. It is a wonderful time to get out and take a hike through a wildlife area looking for spring migrants, animal tracks and trees budding out. Anglers are urged to use caution when venturing out onto late season ice; wearing floatation, bringing ice picks and carrying rope are some simple measures that all ice anglers should use. The snowmobile trails in Brown County are currently closed as we are hopefully gearing up for spring. Lastly, a reminder to all sportsmen and women that your licenses expire on March 31. You can start buying your 2014 licenses today! - Cara Kamke, conservation warden, Green Bay
Sturgeon Bay DNR Service Center area
Peninsula State Park - Snow depth varies up to 20 inches. Watch for icy/slippery conditions throughout the park. Ski trails are in fair condition and icy. Snowshoe and hiking trails are open. The sledding hill is open. Snowmobile trails are open and in fair to good condition. - Jane Barnowsky, visitor services associate
Kewaunee County - Ice fishing has picked up on inland Kewaunee County Lakes with the warm weather. Bluegills and crappies are being caught on most of the lakes. Wax worms seem to be the popular bait. Remember that the game fish season (bass, pike, walleye, musky) is closed on these lakes. There is still plenty of ice, but the warm weather did take a toll on the landings. Use extreme caution if you choose to drive onto any area lakes as the ice around the landings is getting thin and will not support vehicles much longer if we continue to see sun and temperatures above freezing. Sections 1, 2 and 3 of the Kewaunee County snowmobile trails are currently closed and Section 4 will close at 6 a.m. on Thursday March 13. - Kyle Lynch, conservation warden, Kewaunee
Wautoma DNR Service Center area
Waupaca County - Snow has settled somewhat but is still 16 or more inches in the area. Snowmobile trails closed Tuesday, and silent sports trails are in fair to good condition. There is very little ice fishing pressure, with almost no open water to speak of for river run fishing. With all the snow and ice left, looks like we still have plenty of winter to go. - Karl Kramer, wildlife technician, Wautoma
- Ted Dremel, conservation warden, Wautoma
Oshkosh DNR Service Center area
High Cliff State Park- Lake Winnebago on the east shore is still locked in with ice, and only a few people are venturing out. Snowmobile trails are closed in Calumet County. Birders are reporting red-winged blackbirds, great blue heron, and sandhill cranes are in the area. Cross-country ski trails still have a week or two to go before hikers take over; however, there is still enough snow to snowshoe off-trail in the woods. - Cynthia Mueller, naturalist
Outagamie County - All snowmobile trails in the area are closed. Anglers have been catching crappie in Kaukauna below Lock 5 and in Appleton by Lawe Street. Anglers have also started catching walleye and sauger below the Olde Oneida St. dam and at the old Foremost site. Be cautious on the ice as it is becoming weak in many areas. - Ryan Propson, conservation warden, Appleton
Milwaukee DNR Service Center area
Harrington Beach State Park - With the recent warm up, trails have lost much of their snow cover. Conditions vary greatly, so please call the park office for the most current trail conditions. Spring is around the corner, finally! Honk, honk, honk! What a welcome sound those geese make for our park adventurers. Our striped friend, the skunk, has begun to make regular appearances at dusk and our grey squirrels are preparing for the arrival of their young. The ice has receded on Lake Michigan and ships can once again be seen in the distance. - Robin Miller, ranger
Kettle Moraine State Forest, Lapham Peak Unit - The snow cover is greatly reduced on the ski trails at Lapham. However the man-made snow loop still has nearly 2 feet of snow on it. At this point it is a high moisture content snow that wants to be icy. The 1.5 K man-made loop was tilled with a snow cat on Wednesday during the day producing very good conditions including a new classic track while the sun was up. At sundown things got hard again. The man made loop was groomed again Wednesday night and should be skiable on Thursday. Off of the man-made loop the snow is very hard and icy, and there are some glare ice sections making those trails essentially unskiable unless the air temp and sun softens the snow. - Paul Sandgren, property supervisor
Kettle Moraine State Forest, Northern Unit - Seasonal temperatures have returned to the forest, resulting in a meltdown of the snow base. As of March 12, the ski trails are still snow-covered and skiable, but some stretches will be littered with debris. If conditions permit, staff may groom the Zillmer trails on Friday, March 14, but be alert for icy conditions and standing water. All snowmobile trails within the forest are closed. Cardinals are singing their spring courtship songs, and the first robin and bluebird sightings have been reported. Raccoons are emerging from their hibernation, and the squirrels have been very active. Most lakes within the forest remain ice-covered; however conditions can deteriorate rapidly as we move further into spring. The DNR does not consider any ice to be safe - please use extra caution if venturing out. - Deb Harder, visitor services associate
Kettle Moraine State Forest, Southern Unit - Cross-country ski trails are deteriorating. Skate skiers will find better conditions early in the day before the air temperature rises. Nordic skate lanes were groomed on Saturday night. A classical track was set early in the day on Saturday. That track remains in fair condition although in areas exposed to direct sunlight the bottom of the track is glazed and icy. McMiller skate lanes were groomed on Saturday night. A classical track was set early in the day on Saturday. That track remains in fair condition although in areas exposed to direct sunlight the bottom of the track is glazed and icy. The Scuppernong trails were groomed early on Saturday morning. Bright sunshine and warms temps later on Saturday softened the snow and created icy conditions as the temperatures dropped late in the day. There is a fair amount of tree debris throughout the trail system. - Amanda Prange, visitor services associate
Southern Lake Michigan fisheries team report - Compiled from creel clerks by Cheryl Masterson and Jeffrey Zinuticz, fisheries technicians, Milwaukee
Sheboygan County - In Sheboygan a few anglers have been ice fishing off the docks in the marina, as well as near the boat launch ramps. A few browns have been reported in the harbor, and golden shiners have taken the most fish.
Ozaukee County - In Port Washington a few browns and rainbows have been caught on crank baits and spawn sacs near the power plant. The discharge area will provide an open water fishing opportunity throughout the winter months, and decent numbers of browns should remain in the harbor.
Milwaukee County - In Milwaukee the river mouth is fairly open, and the Riverfront Ramp was usable as of Tuesday, March 4. Ice conditions near the river mouth can change quickly based on air temperatures, winds, and freighter traffic. Brown trout will remain in the Milwaukee harbor throughout the winter months, and at times can be accessible from shore and by boat. The lower Menomonee River near the MMSD offices stays open this time of year and provides a good spot for brown trout fishing. At the lakefront, ice anglers in McKinley Marina report ice depths up to 15 or more inches, and some brown trout have been taken through the ice. Minnows and jigging spoons have been more productive than spawn sacs recently.
Racine County - In Racine, the ice depth in Reefpoint Marina is variable, but anglers report 10 to 12 or more inches in many locations. Brown trout in the 4 to 5 pound range and a few rainbows have been caught on tube jigs, minnows, and jigging spoons. Other anglers have had success fishing for browns through the ice in the lower sections of the Root River.
Kenosha County - Ice anglers in Kenosha have been working the area around the boat docks in Simmons Island Marina. Browns and rainbows should be in the area, but fishing has been slow overall.
Plymouth DNR Service Center area
Theresa Marsh State Wildlife Area - On Theresa Marsh, several pairs of locally nesting Canada geese have started staking out their territories on top of the ice on the frozen impoundments along Highway 28 and below the Mowhawk Road overlook. A few mallards have been seen flying around doing their mating rituals. The Rock River is still mostly frozen except just below and above the marsh dam, where the Rock River is just starting to open up. The water level at the marsh dam has come up about 6 inches during the past week due to snow melt. We will open the bottom flow radial gate at the dam a foot or two as soon as it unfreezes to allow passage of northern pike for spawning and to pass spring snow melt. Many farm fields and grass fields have partially melted off and we're seeing more turkeys and deer feeding in them. - Tom Isaac, wildlife biologist, Hartford
South Central Region
Dodgeville DNR Service Center area
Richland County - All snowmobile trails in Richland County are closed. Ice fishing activity remains slow and flooding is starting to occur in the Lower Wisconsin Riverway. - Michael Nice, conservation warden, Richland Center
Blue Mound State Park - Cross-country ski trails still are still snow covered, but in poor condition. Downhills are quite icy.
Horicon DNR Service Center area
Dodge County - Canada geese, sandhill cranes, and robins have been returning to the Horicon area in low but steady numbers. Much of the snow cover has melted. The Horicon Marsh and surrounding waters are still mostly frozen, but ice did get thinner with the recent warm temperatures. Final repairs to the artificial heron rookery were completed on the marsh this week, with a special surprise hopefully coming later this month. Over 1,200 acres of marsh got an early jump on spring. The US Fish and Wildlife Service used prescribed (controlled) fire to burn off cattails and vegetation over the ice to rejuvenate fresh vegetation and make it available for muskrats and other wildlife species. - Paul Samerdyke, wildlife biologist, Horicon
Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area - Small numbers of sandhill cranes and Canada geese have been seen and heard returning to the Horicon Marsh area. Robins have also been reported in the surrounding area. Join wildlife educators on Saturday, March 15 at 1 p.m. for a Spring Thaw Walk. As the weather gets warmer and the landscape greener, the marsh begins to thaw. Search for the first signs of spring! - Elizabeth Herzmann, natural resources educator
Fitchburg DNR Service Center area
Columbia County - This week's warm weather melted a lot of snow in a hurry leaving a muddy mess in many areas, and water standing in many fields and yards. Many southern facing areas are now snow free, much to the delight of many critters, including deer and turkeys. Many "winter sleepers" such as raccoon and skunks have been enjoying the warmer temperatures as well. Sandhill cranes are beginning to be seen around the county. - Sara Kehrli, wildlife biologist, Poynette
Dane County - Sandhill cranes are starting to trickle into their territories across the southern tier of counties. We are likely to see large influx of cranes over the weekend. Open water has developed at a few lakes with current flow (Lower Mud Lake) and we're seeing an initial influx of cold-hardy waterfowl including goldeneyes, mergansers, diving ducks and mallards. Large numbers of geese will likely start to move into the area over the weekend. This is the best time of year to see flocks of white-fronted geese. Birders should focus their efforts on sheet water in low-lying agricultural fields. It's mating season for squirrels, as the males are chasing females. Expected migrants over the weekend would include blackbirds, killdeer, American woodcock, cranes, geese and other waterfowl and likely a few meadowlarks and song sparrows. - Andy Paulios, wildlife biologist, Fitchburg
Devil's Lake State Park - Ski trails are in poor condition. Due to the warm weather rain and mixed precipitation for this upcoming week, it is unlikely that trails will be groomed for the rest of the season. - Richard Hesed, visitor services associate
Sauk Prairie Recreation Area - Birds are starting to return to Wisconsin so maybe spring is on its way. Birds seen are bluebirds, robins, and waterfowl to name a few. - Nancy Frost, wildlife biologist, Madison
Lake Kegonsa State Park -Cross country ski trails are in poor condition due to melting and ice. Trails will likely not be groomed again this season. Sandhill cranes and other birds have been heard in the park. Spring is coming. - Sarah Bolser, park manager
West Central Region
La Crosse DNR Service Center area
Vernon County - Surprisingly, a few male wild turkeys have been seen strutting and displaying. While these behaviors are signs of the impending breeding season, there is still a ways to go before breeding actually begins. Fox and gray squirrels are taking advantage of warming weather and lengthening days by feeding furiously on nuts and seeds that have remained buried all winter under snow and ice. Raccoon, skunk, muskrat, mink, and opossum activity has increased as temperatures are increasing and snow is receding. River otter sign along creeks and streams may be more evident this time of year as male otters increase their movements during the March - April breeding season. Keep an eye open for these curious, energetic, entertaining animals. - Dave Matheys, wildlife biologist, Viroqua
Perrot State Park - The cross country ski trails were in good condition as of March 7. The Bay Trail and Riverview Trail have been groomed and tracked. The upper trails were not groomed this week but the track is still in good condition with a few inches of new snow. The skate lane around the campground has been groomed and was in very good condition. - Lois Larson, park manager
Black River Falls DNR Service Center area
Black River State Forest - Warmer temperatures have finally come to the Black River area. Highs this weekend are forecasted to be in upper 20s to mid-30s. ATV trails will be closing on Sunday, March 16 at the end of the day. Trails were groomed on March 5. Due to warm weather, it is unlikely that the trails will be groomed again this year. - Emily Alf, visitor services associate
Eau Claire DNR Service Center area
Eau Claire County -Eau Claire County snowmobile trails are closed. The warmer temperatures are ideal for long walks or jogging outdoors. Ice anglers are catching a few panfish on Lake Altoona, but slushy snow conditions make travel more difficult. A brief reminder that fishing is not allowed below the Lake Altoona Dam from March 1 until the first Saturday of May. The 500 feet of fish refuge is clearly posted. - Scott Thiede, conservation warden, Eau Claire
Hoffman Hills State Recreation Area - Ski trails are in poor condition due to the warm weather. Trails will not be regroomed until we receive additional snowfall. - Calvin Kunkel, ranger
Red Cedar State Trail - The ski trail is in poor condition due to the melting snow. The trail will not be regroomed until it receives additional snow. - Calvin Kunkel, ranger
Lake Wissota State Park - With the recent warm temperatures the cross-country ski trails were still in fair condition as of March 12 with a solid base. Snowshoeing conditions in other areas of the park are good with a thin crust on the snow. Species of birds seen or heard include: mourning doves, nuthatches, ravens, black capped chickadees, pileated woodpeckers, barred owls, and bald eagles. - Dave Hladilek, park manager