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Outdoor Report

Published January 14, 2016 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).

In the past week temperatures dropped markedly, ice formed and reformed across the state and snow in many areas finally held. Temperatures were on the rise again, but another cold snap is in for forecast for the weekend.

The cold temperatures finally have lakes in the southern half of the state making ice, but conditions remain highly variable. Lake Mendota and Monona froze over this week, but officials are urging people to use extreme caution as there are many areas of thin ice.

The freeze over was timely for Free Fishing Weekend in Wisconsin on Jan. 16 and 17. People can fish anywhere in Wisconsin without a license or trout stamp, including Wisconsin's side of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River. Other fishing rules, such as size and bag limits apply and any seasons when you must release certain fish species. Search the DNR Website for Free Fishing Weekend for events. In the north, walleye seem to be eluding many ice fishers recently, though some panfish anglers have been having more consistent success, with perch still being caught above crappie and bluegill. Managed trout lakes continue to see pressure, with browns, rainbow and brook trout still biting.

The cold snap was also good news for Sauk Prairie's Bald Eagle Watching Days, Jan. 15 and 16, and for A Day With Eagles Along the Fox River, held Jan. 16 and 17 in Appleton. Lake and river freeze-up is concentrating eagles at open water below dams. A Wisconsin River eagle survey found 165 eagles, nearly tripling the numbers reported in each of the last two years when the river froze much earlier. Both events offer eagle watching opportunities as well as indoor activities to see eagles up close through live raptor shows, presentations and displays. Search the DNR website for "bald eagle watching" for details.

People gather on the Wisconsin River overlook to view eagles at a previous Sauk Prairie Eagle Watching Days.
People gather on the Wisconsin River overlook to view eagles at a previous Sauk Prairie Eagle Watching Days.
Photo Credit: Kurt Eakle

With snowfall in the forecast, things are looking up for the winter sports lovers. Additional counties have now opened snowmobile trails, including some in central Wisconsin, according to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism's Snow Conditions Report (exit DNR). Trails along the most northern tier of counties are now being reported as good to very good. Trails in the central portion of the state are generally fair to poor.

Cross-country ski conditions are generally good to very good throughout the northern half of the state and along southern Lake Michigan counties, including the Kettle Moraine State Forest. The Horicon Marsh Visitor and Education Center is holding a candlelight event this Saturday, and people planning to attend are being urged to take shuttle busses that will be leaving from Horicon and Mayville. Last year the event attracted more than 2,000 people and parking at the center is very limited. A candlelight event is also being held at the Nordic trail in the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine on Saturday. For a complete list of candlelight events, search the DNR website for "candlelight."

With all but the metro archery deer zones closed, and those finishing up in January, deer are on the move once again and highly visible throughout the state.

Snowy owls continue to be spotted and the calls of the great horned owl are beginning to echo, as their late January laying season approaches. Backyard feeder watchers report an uptick in activity with the cold, snowy conditions. Most notable are widespread reports of common redpolls, a small northern finch that enjoys thistle and sunflower seed alongside its goldfinch and siskin relatives.

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Upcoming State Natural Area Workdays

Columbia County - Get exercise and enjoy the brush pile fire at Rocky Run SNA this Saturday, January 16, 2016! Help cut and burn brush and cedar trees and learn something in the process. Rocky Run is a sandy prairie and oak savanna site that has been taken over by invasive shrubs and cedar trees which reduce the native understory diversity. Remove these trees to encourage rare animals and plants on the site. No skills needed you will be trained onsite. If you are interested please contact Jared Urban at jared.urban@wisconsin.gov or 608- 228-4349, but if you don't get around to notifying him, come anyway!

Dane County - Help save a native goat prairie by joining a volunteer workday 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Jan. 16, at Lodi Marsh State Natural Area. Work with volunteers from the Ice Age Trail Alliance and DNR staff to cut and burn encroaching eastern red cedars and invasive brush. Be prepared for steep terrain. We will meet at the Ice Age Trail parking lot with the kiosk on Lodi-Springfield Road in the Lodi Marsh State Wildlife Area. Dress for the weather/work and wear clothes that are OK to get beat up. If the workday is canceled due to weather conditions, a message will be left at 608-434-2488 at least two hours before the event. If there is no cancellation message, the workday will continue as scheduled. If you are interested, please reserve your spot by contacting Bridget Rathman at Bridget.Rathman@Wisconsin.gov, or 608-434-2488.

Interested in learning about workdays in the future? Check out the State Natural Areas Volunteer Page for more information. - Jared Urban, conservation biologist, Dane

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Statewide Birding Report

It took a while but it appears winter is finally here. Backyard feeder watchers report an uptick in activity with the cold, snowy conditions. Most notable are widespread reports of common redpolls, a small northern finch that enjoys thistle and sunflower seed alongside its goldfinch and siskin relatives. Redpolls are being seen statewide, and especially at feeders in the south where natural food sources such as birch and alder are more limited. A few feeders in the far north are hosting evening grosbeaks amid good numbers of blue jays and woodpeckers. The two other "winter finches" being seen across the north woods are pine grosbeaks and Bohemian waxwings. Both are fruit-eating species attracted to crabapples, mountain ash, highbush cranberry, and similar food sources, often within urban or residential areas. The formation of ice is now concentrating species drawn to water. Most patches of open water will host mallards, common goldeneye, and other duck species, potentially along with lingering tundra swans and various gull species. And not far away one is likely to find one or more bald eagles, whose populations are doing very well across the badger state. More than a month's worth of eagle watching events kickoff this weekend. Open grasslands and agricultural areas also provide good birding this time of year. Rough-legged hawks, northern shrikes, horned larks, snow buntings, and a few short-eared owls are being seen. Some lucky birders are also finding snowy owls around the state. A few hotspots are Superior, Ashland, and the agricultural corridor from Green Bay southwest to Appleton, with scattered observations around Milwaukee, Madison, Eau Claire, and St. Croix County. A few of the rare birds spotted this week were gyrfalcon in Douglas, slaty-backed gull in Jefferson, continuing Lewis's woodpecker in Trempealeau, Townsend's solitaires in Bayfield and Door, a few hoary redpolls mixed in with the commons, and lingering western meadowlark, brown thrasher, and gray catbird in a number of locations. Perhaps the biggest bird news, however, was a very rare ivory gull found dead in Superior last week at the same time a live one was being seen in Duluth! This is a beautiful small gull of the arctic whose population is declining dramatically and has not been seen in Wisconsin since 2000. - Ryan Brady, Bureau of Wildlife Management research scientist, Ashland

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Northern Region

Superior Service Center area

Brule River State Forest- The After Hours Ski Trail was groomed the morning of Jan. 15 after the region received around 3 inches of fresh snowfall. Trails are in very good condition with a base on the trails around 3-4 inches and 12 inches of snow in the woods. Please bundle up this weekend if you decide to go skiing as temperatures are expected to plummet. - Edwin Koepp, visitor services associate

Spooner DNR Service Center area

Governor Knowles State Forest - The trails at the St. Croix Family Campground have been packed. This trail system is open for hiking, snowshoeing, and fat tire biking. The Brandt Pines Ski Trails have been groomed. During the winter months, the ski trails are only classical and skate skiing is permitted. Self-registration forms are available at the Brandt Pines parking lot. Daily trail passes are $5 and annual trail passes are $25. Annual passes are good through December 31, 2016. - Brandi Larson, visitor services assistant

Park Falls DNR Service Center area

Upper Chippewa Basin fisheries report (Price, Rusk, Sawyer Taylor and inland Ashland and Iron counties) - The recent cold snap has helped increase ice depths on most lakes across the region - but ice conditions still remain extremely variable and recreationalists should be very cautious when venturing out on any Northern lakes. Most lakes have around 7 inches of ice, but undisturbed areas and some spots on the larger lakes have been measured with only 2 to 3 inches of ice. Motor vehicles are NOT recommended, and ATVs and snowmobiles should only go where ice conditions are known to be thick enough. The cold weather has also kept ice fishing pressure at a relatively low level and action has continued to be quite erratic. Walleye have still been the main species of interest and most anglers have had a tough time finding active fish. The best success has been on small suckers or large fathead minnows, and fished near break lines in 5 to 12 feet of water. Cloudy days have produced the best success, with the hour before dark being the prime time to be out. A few panfish anglers have been venturing out and they have seen a little more consistent action than the walleye fishermen. Some good success for perch has been reported, but crappie and bluegill have been a little tougher to find. Perch are still being caught on wax worms and small minnows, and have been found at depths as shallow as 4 feet and out to 15+ feet of water. A few nice crappie and bluegill have been found suspended just off the bottom in 15 to 24 feet of water, with wax worms and small minnows producing some fair action at times. The managed trout lakes continue to see a moderate amount of pressure and action continues to be fair. The stocked trout have been whittled down quite a bit by the continuous fishing pressure but some nice browns, rainbows and brookies are still being caught. - Skip Sommerfeldt, senior fisheries biologist, Park Falls

Flambeau River State Forest - The area lakes are freezing. Some folks are out ice fishing, but the ice depth varies. The channels are not safe. The river is still high and is starting to freeze over. There has been some success on Connors Lake for walleye fishing. The Flambeau's Ski Trail is 14 miles long through some very hilly terrain and meanders through a mixture of hardwoods and conifers. This trail crosses three bridges and provides an occasional glimpse of the Flambeau River with a 3 sided warming shelter with a picnic table and fire ring off of the Pinery Grade segment of the trail system. It is well stocked with firewood for your use. The northern sector of the trail, off of Hwy 70 is in good condition with track set and approx. 2- to 3-inch base. With the cold temperatures the trail is hard and fast. The south part of the trail off of Hwy W is in fair to good condition with no track set, and approximately 1 to 2 inch base. Again, with the cold temps the trail is hard and moves fast. We are looking forward to snow with the forecasts indicating Thursday and Friday are likely to be snow days. Folks have been eager to use the snowshoe trails in the forest. Lake of the Pines Nature Trail and Little Falls Sough Gundy Scenic Area are both signed and parking areas are plowed. We have approx. 6 to 7 inches of snow in the woods, so the forest floor has enough snow to snowshoe and you have to snowshoe fast to get your aerobic heart rate higher. The snowmobile trails are open, though not groomed. The trails are awaiting more snowfall. There are lots of downy and hairy woodpeckers on the feeders now. Some folks have a hard time telling them apart. The hairy is about 1/3 longer than the downy with a large bill and weighs about three times as much as the downy, and the downy's bill is tiny in proportion to its head. The deer, elk and other mammals seem to hunker down, sleep a lot and try to conserve their energy in frigid temps. The frigid temps are here for only a few days so it doesn't seem to bother them. The fresh layer of snow encourages the wildlife trackers or inquisitive wildlife lovers to go out and see what's out there moving around. Bobcats, grouse and turkey tracks were a few noticed on the ski trail. - Diane Stowell, visitor services associate

Antigo DNR Service Center area

Langlade County - Most of the Antigo Area has less than 6 inches of snow on the ground. With the recent cold snap lakes have put on decent ice. Fishermen have reported up to 8 inches of ice on area lakes. However, the earlier rain and melting and freezing again have produced some "poor" ice conditions on some spots. Use caution. Snowy owls continue to be seen in the farm fields around Antigo. Cedar waxwings, pine siskins, chickadees and finches are common visitors to local bird feeders.- Eric J. Borchert, wildlife technician, Antigo

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Northeast Region

Sturgeon Bay DNR Service Center area

Peninsula State Park - The Purple, Yellow, Green, Blue and Red cross-country ski trails have been groomed and are in poor to fair condition. Portions of the Orange and White trails are under water. Some sections of the Blue, Green, and Orange trails are closed. A map will be on display at Park Headquarters and parking Lot 5 indicating the closed areas. The sledding hill is closed due to bare areas. Snowmobile trails are closed.

Potawatomi State Park - Cross-country ski trails were last groomed on January 12. The trails are in good condition except near the shoreline warming shelter. Skiers are urged to park at the group campsite area for easier access to the ski trails. Snowmobile trails are open. Call the park office at 920-746-2890 for the most current trail conditions. The sledding hill near the shoreline does not have enough snow on it to be used at this time. - Lois M. Hanson, visitor services associate

Rock Island State Park - Around Washington Island and area islands there is good snow cover. Bird watchers have reported seeing bald eagle activity, some tundra and mute swans, lots of long tail ducks when crossing on the car ferry as well as the usual song birds coming to feeders. Turkeys and deer are actively feeding during the day. No one has ventured out on the newly formed harbor ice yet and winds and waves make that a dangerous activity at this time. The mouth of Green Bay and Lake Michigan are completely open and ice free. - Randy Holm, ranger and assistant property manager

Whitefish Dunes State Park - The Red, Yellow and Green cross-country ski trails were groomed for classic skiing only. Trails were tracked and groomed on January 10 and are in fair condition with a thin base in spots and a little debris from the recent winds, but very skiable. There is no snowshoeing, hiking, biking, pets and sledding allowed along the ski trails. There is no access to Old Baldy unless you are skiing. The Black Trail and the beach are open for hiking, snowshoeing and pets. The beach has little snow on it and is wide enough to walk in winter boots. Hiking is not permitted on the ski trails. Bikes are allowed on the roadway and the half mile portion of the Black Trail. All other trails are groomed for cross-country skiing and aren't designated bike trails. Lots of bird activity at the bird feeder such as the downy, hairy, red-bellied woodpeckers, nuthatches, cardinals and chickadees.

Wautoma DNR Service Center area

Waupaca County - Ice cover varies between 3 and 6 inches on most area lakes, is fishable. We'll put more on with the upcoming next few days as a big cold spell is on its way. No current reports on fishing success--seems few people have been out thus far. Early trout fishing not possible at the moment--too much ice on streams. Deer and turkey are really out and about right now, actively moving in daylight hours. Snowmobile trails are not yet open, with only about 6 inches of snow on the ground. - Karl Kramer, wildlife technician, Wautoma

Hartman Creek State Park - Ski trails were groomed on Wednesday, Jan. 13 and are in good to fair condition. Some icy and bare spots occur on sections of the trail so please use caution. Cronies bike club also groomed the park's single track trail and with the colder temperatures, the trails are in excellent condition. The park will hold its annual Candlelight ski, snowshoe and hike on Saturday, January 30 from 5 to 8 p.m. Please contact the park for more information.- Michael Bergum, park superintendent

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Southeast Region

Milwaukee DNR Service Center area

Kettle Moraine State Forest, Lapham Peak Unit - All cross-country ski trails were groomed Wednesday night, Jan. 13. The "short cut" from evergreen to behind SummerStage is narrow, but skiable, please be cautious while skiing that route. There are a few piles of man-made snow from the Evergreen trailhead up to SummerStage that can be skied around but not very easily. These piles must sit for a few days so any extra water may drain out and the piles can "cure" therefore your patience and understanding is appreciated until they can be spread. We have had some mechanical problems with our snow spreader, and hope to have it back up and spreading snow by early next week. Just a reminder that the annual Lapham Loppet is Saturday, January 16 starting around 10 a.m. - Brian Jacquette, ranger

Kettle Moraine State Forest, Northern Unit - Thanks to folks adhering to last weekend's closure, the ski trails made it through the warm spell intact. With 1-2 inches of new snow on Monday, the trails have re-opened, and groomers were able to pack, comb and track both Greenbush and Zillmer systems on Tuesday, January 12. Ski conditions are good, with a nice solid base, however the Zillmer yellow does have some thin spots. - Deb Harder, visitor services associate

Kettle Moraine State Forest, Southern Unit - The forest received 1-1.5 inches of snow last weekend and the Scuppernong, Nordic and McMiller cross-country ski trails were groomed Sunday and were in good condition. Watch for a few thin spots and be aware there may be ice underneath the fresh snowfall. Track was set on the Scuppernong Trail. McMiller was groomed for skating, but there is still not enough snow to set a track. - Anne Korman, superintendent

Kohler-Andrae State Park - Skiing conditions are currently marginal, though skiing is possible. Trails were scheduled to be re-groomed on Thursday. However, the upcoming warm weather may cause things to deteriorate. - Ed Muzik, park manager

Plymouth DNR Service Center area

Washington County - County snowmobile trails are still closed. Local lakes have begun to freeze over but there are still a lot of unfrozen and thin areas on lakes and marshes where snow has insulated the water or ground, so please use caution when going on the ice. A bald eagle is still hanging around the shoreline of Pike Lake. Quite a few die-hard archers have been out, taking advantage of the January Metro deer season that runs through the end of the month. - Tom Isaac, wildlife biologist, Hartford

Theresa Marsh State Wildlife Area - Join DNR Wildlife staff at Theresa Marsh Wildlife Area on Saturday, January 23 from 9-11 a.m. for a winter hike to look at animal tracks and signs. Please contact DNR Wildlife Educator Dianne Robinson to register and for details, at Dianne.Robinson@Wisconsin.gov or 262-424-9827. - Tom Isaac, wildlife biologist, Hartford

Sturtevant DNR Service Center area

Kenosha County - The freeze-and-thaw limbo we've had has made for unpredictable ice conditions. Although some fishermen and women are now venturing out on to the ice, we urge people use caution and common sense. On Jan. 12, snowmobile trails in Kenosha Co. opened up for the first time this winter. Trail conditions are fair at best due to drifting snow and lack of accumulation. - John Sinclair, conservation warden Kenosha

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South Central Region

Dodgeville DNR Service Center area

Lafayette County - There has been ice forming on area waters but if people are thinking about heading out on to the water they need to remember that just last weekend there was still areas of significant open water and no ice should be considered "safe" ice. Now that the fall turkey and deer seasons are over, turkey and deer seem to be everywhere, with groups of 10 plus of both being common. - Nick Webster, conservation warden, Darlington

Blue Mound State Park - All cross-country ski trails are groomed and tracked. Trails are in relatively good condition, but as before the tracks can be shallow in areas. There are scattered icy spots. Skate skiing is allowed in the campground and picnic area.

Fitchburg DNR Service Center area

Dane County - Just a reminder that we still have opportunities to harvest deer in the metro zone units. Birders in Dane County have been reporting common redpolls at their feeders with the onset of colder temps. This is a northern finch that doesn't always make it down to Southern Wisconsin every year, so kind of neat to see. Lakes and rivers have really iced up in the past week. Remaining waterfowl and waterbirds are now very concentrated and easier to view in the remaining patches of open water. - Andy Paulios, wildlife biologist, Fitchburg

Mirror Lake State Park -As of Wednesday afternoon all cross-country skate lanes have been groomed for skiing. Classic track has not been reset; however, the track is still in place and in fair condition in most areas. - Becky Green, park manager

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West Central Region

La Crosse DNR Service Center area

Vernon County - Great horned owls are beginning to call. Owls are territorial, and one of the primary reasons that owls call is to verbally defend their territories from other owls of their own kind. Great horned owls will continue calling well into February. On still nights, listen for the deep WHOO, WHOO-WHOO, WHOO-WHOO, WHOO call of the male. Often the female mate will reply in a higher pitched WHOO, WHOO-WHOO-WHOO, WHOO-OO, WHOO-OO. The great horned owl is probably the most widely distributed breeding bird in North America, and it also occurs well south through Central America into South America. These owls rarely build their own nests. Instead they usually occupy nests formerly constructed by crows, Cooper's hawks, red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks, or squirrels. Great horned owls are our earliest breeding bird. Egg laying typically takes place from late January through mid-February, and owlets are born about five weeks later. Oftentimes great horned owl mothers are covered with snow while they patiently and devotedly incubate their eggs. Great Horned Owls are covered in extremely soft feathers that insulate them against the cold winter weather and help them fly very quietly in pursuit of prey. A very common prey item for great horned owls is the meadow vole. According to Dr. Charles Long in his book "The Wild Mammals of Wisconsin," the meadow vole is one of the most abundant mammals in Wisconsin and is found throughout the state. Because of these two factors, in addition to its high reproductive rate, this small rodent is an important member of many food chains, supplying a major food item for various raptors, cranes, gulls, snakes, and carnivorous mammals. Meadow vole populations typically exhibit dramatic three to five year cycles, influenced by breeding rates, litter size, number of litters, predation, and food. About 90 percent of meadow voles die before they are a month old, and few live beyond a year. Look for evidence of voles where you live - tiny teeth marks low on shrubs and trees, snow tunnels about half an inch" in diameter, or short, tubular earth deposits called trail castings or eskers. - Dave Matheys, wildlife biologist, Viroqua

Black River Falls DNR Service Center area

Black River State Forest - After a bitterly cold start to the week temperatures are expected to warm up slightly before dropping down into the single digits again on Sunday. Ski trails were groomed on Monday Jan., 11. We were unable to reset the track at this time as the base is very hard and thin. Winter ATV and snowmobile trails are closed. - Emily Alf, visitor services associate

Eau Claire DNR Service Center area

Hoffman Hills State Recreation Area - Ski trails at Hoffman Hills Recreation Area were groomed and tracked Jan. 9. Trails are in good condition and are expected to be groomed before the weekend again due to light snow expected the next couple of days. - Calvin Kunkel, ranger

Red Cedar State Trail - Ski trails at Red Cedar have been groomed, tracked and are in good condition. The ice wall on the Red Cedar Trail has formed beautifully with some help of the recent cold weather. If venturing out to see the ice wall keep your eyes open for bald eagles as they are a daily site along the river as well as waterfowl. - Calvin Kunkel, ranger

Lake Wissota State Park - The cross-country ski trails have been groomed. Contact the park office at 715-382-4574 for current trail conditions. Snowshoe trails are in great shape. Species of birds we have been seeing or hearing include: ravens, black capped chickadees, phoebes, northern juncos, pileated woodpeckers, barred owls and bald eagles. - Dave Hladilek, park manager

Wisconsin Rapids DNR Service Center area

Buckhorn State Park - Trails are icy with the warmer weather, freezing rain last week and cold temperatures this week. They will be regroomed when we have sufficient snow again. We have started taking applications for the accessible cabin for this year. Applications can be mailed to the park or faxed to 608-565-8033. Keyword search "cabin" on dnr.wi.gov. - Heather Wolf, park manager



Last Revised: Thursday, January 14, 2016

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