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Outdoor Report

Published January 4, 2018 by the Central Office

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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).

It has been a rough couple of weeks with some areas of the north having temperatures that plummeted to lows of minus 25 some days. The frigid temperatures should ease this weekend, providing more friendly conditions for those that work and play outside.

Snow depths in the Northwoods vary from 6 to 10-plus inches, making the cross-country ski trails a little thin yet, and snowmobile trails even more so. Snowmobile trails are open or partially open in the northern tier of counties with conditions fair to good on the Wisconsin Department of Tourism's Snow Conditions Report (exit DNR).

Cross-country ski trails conditions range from fair to good to very good in roughly the northern third of the state. The Kettle Moraine State Forest, Northern Unit Zillmer trails were packed for the first time Jan. 3, and have about a 1- to 2-inch base but not enough to set track. The entire 1.6 K man-made snow loop at the Lapham Peak Unit is now completed and groomed regularly for both skate and classic skiing and conditions are good.

Ice conditions are becoming more stable and there have been some ice anglers braving the cold. Ice reports in the north are averaging around 8 to 12 inches but always remember that ice thicknesses can vary and slush is being found on some northern lakes. A few permanent shacks have started to be placed out.

Most southern lakes now have enough ice to walk on and ice fish. Lake Mendota and Monona in Madison froze over the last week of December. It's a good idea to wear traction devices as most ice doesn't have enough snow cover to provide traction.

The ice fishing season has begun on Lake Winnebago, with perch, white bass and bluegills hitting on jigs near the bottom.

A few gun deer hunters also braved the cold over the holidays chasing antlerless deer in the farmland zone. This will be the last weekend for archery hunters to try to fill a tag. Bow season closes this Sunday, Jan. 7. Deer have been moving more during the day due to the cold nights. A few bucks have dropped antlers. Trapping for otters, muskrats and coyotes is in full swing with furs turning to a prime winter condition. Pheasant hunters had some hunting opportunities the end of December with the Game Farm releasing birds between Christmas and New Year's; however, the season is now closed.

 Visitors to the north woods should watch for pine grosbeaks at fruit sources, gritting on roadways, eating tree buds and seeds, or at backyard feeders. - Photo credit: Ryan Brady
Visitors to the north woods should watch for pine grosbeaks at fruit sources, gritting on roadways, eating tree buds and seeds, or at backyard feeders.Photo credit: Ryan Brady

One upside of the cold and snow is that they have brought backyard feeders to life. Pine siskins are plentiful in many regions, mixed with some common redpolls all the way to our southern border. Pine grosbeaks have been showing fairly well across the Northwoods. Snowy owls remain widespread with sightings in all but nine of Wisconsin's 72 counties. Search the DNR website for "snowy owl" for details.

In the south with the lack of snow hikes can still be made without much added effort. And while it may be cold, the die-hard Friends of Mirror Lake State Park have decided they will go ahead with a tiki-torch lit hike this Saturday night. There will be a bonfire and refreshments to warm up hearty hikers. However the potential for icy conditions has led to the cancellation of a candlelight hike at Blue Mound. Havenwoods, Horicon Marsh and Devil's Lake will also hold daytime hikes Saturday morning. For all details and a complete list of activities search the DNR website for "Get Outdoors."

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Statewide Birding Report

2017 is in the books! What a great birding year it was across the state. Relive the highlights in this wonderful account from the Wisconsin eBird team ebird.org/content/wi/news/2017-wisconsin-ebird-year-in-review (exit DNR). 2018 is off to a good albeit chilly start. Cold and snow have brought backyard feeders to life. Pine siskins are plentiful in many regions, mixed with some common redpolls all the way to our southern border. A few hoary redpolls have been found among them so keep a close watch for whiter redpolls with less streaking and a smaller beak. Pine grosbeaks have been showing fairly well across the Northwoods, small numbers even turning to feeders as well of late, while woodpeckers too have been crashing the feeder scene, including the common downy, hairy, red-bellied, and pileated but also an occasional red-headed, northern flicker, and yellow-bellied sapsucker. Suet, nuts, black oil sunflower seeds, and thistle/nyjer are great offerings for our winter birds this time of year.

Farther afield, snowy owls remain widespread with sightings in all but 9 of Wisconsin's 72 counties. Birders are also finding short-eared owls toward dusk in wetlands and grasslands from central Wisconsin southward. Listen in the month ahead for increasing calling activity among great horned owls as they prepare to initiate nesting soon. Winter is a good time for watching other raptors too. Red-tailed and Cooper's hawks dominate in general but rough-legged hawks, northern harriers, American kestrels, and even a red-shouldered hawk or two are also being seen, especially across the south. The colder weather should have bald eagles concentrating at any open water sources now, though many remain away from water to feed on carrion elsewhere. A few golden eagles have been spotted in their typical winter haunts in the high country of the Driftless Area across western Wisconsin.

Aside from trumpeter swans in St. Croix and a few lingering tundra swans in Dane, the Lake Michigan shore remains best for waterfowl watching. A remarkable 1,700 common goldeneye were tallied off Bradford Beach in Milwaukee on the Jan. 3. Gull watchers there have also enjoyed glaucous, Iceland, and great black-backed among the far more common herring gulls. Rare birds spotted this week include Townsend's solitaires in Dane, La Crosse, Sauk, and Brown, as well spotted towhees - the western counterpart to our native Eastern towhee - in Dane and Richland. Find out what others are seeing and report your finds at www.ebird.org/wi. Good birding to all in the new year! - Ryan Brady, NHC conservation biologist, Ashland

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Upcoming State Natural Area Workday

Saturday, Jan. 6 10 a.m. to noon. Join the new volunteer effort to care for Blue River Sand Barrens State Natural Area! We are teaming up with The Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway (FLOW) to care for this site. Blue River Sands is known for its dry prairie (including cactus) and globally rare oak barrens. DNR crews have been working to clear brush and conduct burns. Volunteers will continue this effort by cutting and burning (if there is snow) brush. This will benefit turtles and understory plants. No skills needed you will be trained onsite. Check the State Natural Areas Volunteer Program /topic/lands/naturalareas/volunteer.html page of the DNR website for details. - Jared Urban, conservation biologist, Dane. - Jared Urban, conservation biologist, Dane

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Northern Region

Superior DNR Service Center area

Brule River State Forest - The frigid temperatures over the past week should ease this weekend, providing more friendly conditions for those that work and play outside. The cold weather has most area rivers and lakes completely frozen over, with only a few areas of open water remaining. The Bois Brule River still has some open water, but there is considerably less open water than there was a week ago. Bald eagles perch over the open channels hoping to catch a fresh meal, however they likely are having more luck catching small mammals or feeding on carrion. The cross-country ski trails conditions are good to very good. There is a 3 inch base on the trails, and about 10 inches of snow in the woods. The new warming shelter at After Hours ski trail has been in use for just about a year now, but improvements to the building continue. The Brule Valley Ski Club purchased carpeting for the building. The carpet is being installed by DNR staff over the next few days. New rustic furniture will be in place soon as well. The Brule Valley Ski Club is sponsoring Learn to Ski Days on January 6 and February 4. Learn more about this and other Ski Club activities and news at www.brulexcski.com (exit DNR). - Diane Gobin, visitor services associate

Ashland DNR Service Center area

Iron County - Three plus inches of snowfall in the northern half of Iron County was welcomed by snowmobile and skiing enthusiasts this past week. More snow is to fall in the next two days. With fresh snow, non-motorized and motorized trails should be freshly groomed and ready for action. The Uller Ski Trail located in Pence/Iron Belt is scheduled to fully open this weekend. The classic ski trail has been fully maintained this year and wraps around beautiful, remote areas of the Penokee Range. Ice conditions are becoming more stable. However, slush is still found on some lakes and on the Turtle Flambeau Flowage. Sunday we should finally see temperatures above 10 degrees again (high of 21 degrees F!) making fishing even more enjoyable. - Jenna Kosnicki, wildlife biologist, Mercer

Pattison State Park - The park received about 2.5 inches of snow over Christmas and the Pattison ski trail was groomed. The trail base varies from 2 to 5 inches. Some tree roots still can be felt under the snow, but over 90 percent of the trail is in "good" condition. - Kevin Feind, property supervisor

Spooner DNR Service Center area

Crex Meadows State Wildlife - It has been a rough couple of weeks in the Grantsburg Area. Temperatures have plummeted to lows of even around -25 degrees some days. Wildlife viewing has been fairly slow, but this is not out of the ordinary. As expected, birds are scarce this time of the year- especially in areas away from feeders. However, the list of birds present is pretty good for this time of the year. Highlights for the week were northern shrikes, common redpolls and the numerous rough-legged hawks. Rare sightings included a golden eagle and a late Wilson's snipe. There are also record high numbers of black-capped chickadees in the Grantsburg Area. - Lauren Finch, wildlife educator

Interstate Park - The lake and river are both frozen over at this point. A few anglers have had success catching walleye on the St. Croix through the ice. There is about 4 to 5 inches of snow in the park. Please use caution on the trails this time of year as snow and ice can create slippery conditions on trial surfaces. The Homestead Snowshoe Trail is open for use. The Skyline Trail has been packed for skiing and is closed for hiking. Hikers looking for a packed trail can use the Silverbrook Trail. The trails that go into the bluffs are not maintained for winter use, please use caution if you decided to utilize those trails. Deer have been seen browsing on the pines near the Ice Age Center and along park roads. The bird feeder has busy with chickadees, nuthatches, and a variety of woodpeckers along with numerous squirrels. On occasion, hawks have been seen near the Ice Age Center as well. - Matthew Densow, ranger

This is a good time of year to see porcupines in trees. - Photo credit: DNR
This is a good time of year to see porcupines in trees.Photo credit: DNR

Straight Lake State Park - There is a about 6 inches of snow on the ground. The Rainbow Lake Trail and the Ice Age Trail are both packed down from hikers, so snowshoes are not needed. Both Rainbow and Straight Lakes are frozen over. Anglers looking for trout should try Rainbow Lake and anglers looking for panfish, bass, and northern pike should try Straight Lake. The cold temperatures lately have slowed down animal activity in the park; however, you can still see a wide variety of tracks in the snow. Bald eagles have been seen flying around along with chickadees and nuthatches. A porcupine was seen recently in a tree near the picnic area parking lot. - Matthew Densow, ranger

Woodruff DNR Service Center area

Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest - Snow depths vary from 6 to 10-plus inches, making the cross-country ski trails a little thin yet, and snowmobile trails even more so. The bitter cold temperatures of the past two weeks have certainly helped in making ice and freezing of the swamps, but don't let that white wonderland fool you. The cold has brought rabbits, deer, turkey, owls, hawks, shrikes and even bobcat to area bird feeders to take advantage of feeding opportunities. One just has to sit quietly and watch. Pine siskins and redpolls are now common visitors at bird feeders, having come down from areas north. Remember to look in aspen and ironwood to see if grouse are budding in them. - Rosalie Richter, visitor services associate

Cross-country ski trails were groomed Jan. 3 and 4. Escanaba Trail had all loops tracked and has good conditions. Raven Trail had all loops tracked. It has fair to good conditions with some thin under the conifers on the Red and Yellow loops. The McNaughton Trail skate loop has an icy spot where the trail has frozen over. All other loops were tracked. Conditions are fair to good with thin spots on all loops. Madeline Trail had all loops tracked. It has fair conditions with some debris and a few bare spots. - Tony Martinez, parks and recreation specialist

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Northeast Region

Peshtigo DNR Service Center area

Marinette County - Snow is still holding at around 6 fluffy inches across much of the county. Ice fisherman have been braving the cold and attempting to catch a few fish. Ice reports are averaging around 10-12 inches but always remember that ice thicknesses can vary and be sure to check thicknesses in areas that are new to you. Fishing has been slow so far. A few gun deer hunters also braved the cold over the holidays chasing antlerless deer in the farmland zone. Late bow season hunters have through this Sunday (Jan. 7) to fill their tag. A few bucks have dropped antlers. Snowy owls are still being reported in the southern portions of the county near the Bay of Green Bay. Snowmobilers have been riding on lakes and trails. Grouse, squirrel, and rabbit hunting seasons remain open as do coyote, raccoon, and fox. Cross country ski trails are available for use on the Peshtigo Harbor Wildlife Area (South of Peshtigo) and Peshtigo River State Forest (west of Crivitz). Portions of the trails are groomed, others are open but not groomed. - Aaron McCullough, wildlife technician, Wausaukee

Oconto County - On Kelly Lake near Suring there has been a few permanent shacks placed out. Kelly Lake has roughly 8-10 inches of ice. The area's open to snowmobiling in Oconto County are Brazeau Township, Bagley Township, and Gillett Area trails. All other trails are closed. Not much wildlife activity with the cold weather. Oconto County recently received about an inch of snow Jan. 3. Check Oconto County Tourism's website for other outdoor activities and trail conditions. - Paul Hartrick, conservation warden, Oconto Falls

Sturgeon Bay DNR Service Center area

Whitefish Dunes State Park - Winter has arrived at Whitefish Dunes. All ski trails are groomed for classic skiing only. Ski trails are in good condition with a few thin spots. Please remember during winter that hiking, snowshoeing and pets are not allowed on the groomed cross-country ski trails (Green, Yellow and Red trails). Hikers and snowshoers may hike the Black Trail or along the beach. January is a great month to watch the beach shoreline for ducks. There have been lots of buffleheads and they are fun to watch bobbing in the waves. Visitors have reported seeing deer on the trails. The bird feeder has been busy with downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers. A porcupine was spotted in a tall pine on the Black Trail. - Jaclyn Moeri, visitor services associate

Wautoma DNR Service Center area

Waushara County - The cold spell is about to break here in Waushara County. The one good thing the bitter cold does for us is solidify the ice in many places. Still use caution and check with local bait shops for current ice conditions as a lot of lakes are spring fed and can pose issues to unknowing users. The snow is drifted in some areas of the ice age trail, but we still don't have a lot of snow and hikes can still be made without much added effort. This will be the last weekend for archery so get in the stand and try to fill that tag if you haven't been fortunate enough to do so. Deer have been moving more during the day with the cold at night and with the break in the cold they will be on the move for sure. Good luck and as usual enjoy all that Waushara County has to offer. - Ben Mott, conservation warden, Wautoma

Oshkosh DNR Service Center area

Fond du Lac County - The cold has opened up the ice fishing season on Lake Winnebago. Perch, white bass and blue gills can be found hitting on jigs near the bottom. As usual no ice is safe ice, even with the 12 plus inches to be found in most locations. ATVs and snowmobiles are found traveling the lake while the shanty towns start to take shape. Trapping for otters, muskrats and coyotesis in full swing with furs turning to a prime winter condition. Dress warm and be safe on the ice! - William Hankee, conservation warden, Fond du Lac

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Southeast Region

Milwaukee DNR Service Center area

Kettle Moraine State Forest, Lapham Peak Unit - The entire 1.6 K man-made loop is now completed and groomed regularly for both skate and classic skiing. Conditions are good. Now that the trail is complete, for safety reasons, remember that it is a one way loop. Skiing counter-clockwise, up tail end and down magic carpet ride. Lights are on until 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. - Brian Fitzpatrick, facilities repair worker

Plymouth DNR Service Center area

Kettle Moraine State Forest, Northern Unit - The forest has received just under an inch of snow since the new year. There is now just about a 1- to 2-inch base on the ski trails, making them skiable with some embedded debris. Zillmer trails were packed Jan. 3, but there is not yet enough of a base to do a proper grooming or set track. Hikers and pets remain prohibited from the ski trails to preserve the trail base in anticipation of the next snow event. Fat tire bikes are welcome on any designated bike trail, but are prohibited from all other trails in the forest. Wisconsin State Trail passes are required for all skiers and bike riders age 16 and over. - Deb Harder, visitor services associate

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South Central Region

Fitchburg DNR Service Center area

Columbia County - Snowmobile trails are still closed in Columbia County. Most lakes now have enough ice to walk on and ice fish. It's a good idea to wear traction devices on your feet yet as most ice doesn't have enough snow cover to provide traction. Pheasant hunters had some good hunting opportunities the end of December with the Game Farm releasing birds during the Christmas to New Year's stretch; however, season is now closed. - Paul Nadolski, conservation warden, Portage

Lake Kegonsa State Park - The park had approximately 2-2.5 inches of light, fluffy snow on our trails as of Friday, Dec. 29. Not quite enough to groom ski trails yet. - Sarah Bolser, park manager

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West Central Region

La Crosse DNR Service Center area

Vernon County - Owl sightings throughout Crawford and Vernon counties have increased during the past several weeks, perhaps coinciding with the cold weather. Snowy owls, screech owls, saw-whet owls, great horned owls, short-eared owls, and barred owls have been consistently reported. Of these six owls, the snowy and short-eared are winter visitors, while the other four owls are resident birds. During winter all of them prey mainly upon small mammals - voles, shrews, rats, and mice. - Dave Matheys, wildlife biologist, Viroqua



Last Revised: Thursday, January 04, 2018

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