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Outdoor ReportPublished February 25, 2016

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View current conditions for Wisconsin State Parks, Trails and Forests
Check out the Wisconsin Department of Tourism (exit DNR).

Warming temperatures mark increased bird migration and end to sturgeon season 

With the past week's general rise in temperature following an almost Spring-like weekend, snow and ice depths, integrity and visibility are changing dramatically across the state and will continue to do so as we move towards this weekend's warmer weather. Several areas of the state received an inch or so of snowfall recently, and the applicable trails have been groomed. However, in areas that didn't receive snow or experienced warmer temperatures before the early-week freeze, a number of trails are losing their snow to a layer of ice, which should be approached with caution. Likewise, depending on your location in the state, anglers hiking out on the ice may also have an inch or more of slush to traverse. Some anglers may have been fishing open water this past week and weekend. For those who did, whitefish saw some of the most consistent success rates, with bass and pike also having fair success, particularly near the shores or harbor(s) bordering Lake Michigan in the northern counties. Anglers in the Upper Chippewa Basin region also reported pike and panfish catch, with perch and crappie making up the majority.

For those closer to Ozaukee or Milwaukee County, browns and steelhead have been hooked on a variety, from spawn to crank baits. The walleye bite also seems to be staying inconsistent throughout the state, with moderate success in the Upper Chippewa Basin, sections of the Menominee River in Marinette County and Lake Winnebago. Speaking of Winnebago, this Friday and Saturday is the "Battle on 'Bago" ice fishing event; tickets to weigh in a fish must be purchased before 6:00 am Friday. The 2016 sturgeon spearing season on Lake Winnebago is coming to an end after this weekend, as water clarity and ice conditions have prompted it to go the full 16 days. Off the water and off the ice, wildlife are shedding antlers, entering and leaving mating seasons and numerous birds are returning in large numbers to the state: from geese, to sandhill cranes, eastern bluebirds, killdeer, and trumpeter swans. For a more in depth look at this great migration, check out the statewide birding report. 

Statewide Birding Report

by Ryan Brady

Lengthening daylight, warmer temperatures, and southerly winds brought the first significant flush of spring migrants into southern Wisconsin this past weekend, including good numbers of Canada and greater white-fronted geese, along with a few snow and Ross's geese. Other arrivals included sandhill cranes, red-winged blackbirds, common grackles, eastern bluebirds, and killdeer. Others on the move north were American robins, horned larks, turkey vultures, trumpeter and tundra swans, and various other waterfowl wherever open water persists, including places like the Lake Michigan shore and Lower Mud Lake in Dane County. Other signs of spring were displaying wild turkeys, singing northern cardinals, and the familiar "see-dee" song of the black-capped chickadee. Believe it or not, nesting is already underway for some species. Great horned owls and some bald eagles are already on eggs, while common ravens, American crows, and red-tailed hawks have already been found nest building during this second year of the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas project. Find out how you can join this statewide volunteer bird survey here /news/Weekly/?id=523#art3. Winter is far from over, however, as snow buntings, snowy owls, common redpolls, evening grosbeaks, bohemian waxwings, northern shrikes, and other winter visitors remain firmly on winter territories, especially across the north. Expect their departure later in March and early April as we first welcome the short-distance migrants, like blackbirds, woodcock, meadowlarks, and more waterfowl, from southern U.S. wintering grounds. Best find of the week was an Ivory Gull on Lake Superior in Bayfield County. This is only the 14th state record and second since the year 2000. Enjoy the migration! - Ryan Brady, Bureau of Wildlife Management research scientist, Ashland

Upcoming State Natural Area Workdays

Green County

Come warm up with brushpile fires and help staff and volunteers restore Stauffacher prairie, a unit of the Muralt State Natural Area. Help cut and pile brush, and enjoy the beauty of this savanna and prairie in the process. Lack of fire has allowed mesic tree species and brush to encroach on prairie and savanna here. Remove previously killed trees and brush to aid in future prescribed burns on the site. If you are interested please contact Alex Wenthe at or 608-282-5403 to receive notices about whether the activity will go as planned.

- Jared Urban, conservation biologist, Dane


Northern Region

Superior DNR Service Center area

Brule River State Forest -

Landscape getting a face-lift on the BRSF
Landscape getting a face-lift on the BRSF
Photo Credit: Edwin Koepp

Warmer than average temperatures continue to linger in the area. This is good news for most people who aim at merely surviving winter. For those of us that enjoy the different winter activities that the Brule area has to offer, warm weather is more of a bump in the road that slows us from enjoying our favorite winter activities. Latest reports from the trail say that snow is soft and slow. Groomers have been staying off the trail as grooming in warm weather can often cause more damage than good. Trails will be groomed on Friday however in preparation for our ski race on Saturday. Sponsored jointly by the Brule Valley Ski Club, the Brule River State Forest, and the Brule Lions Club, this event includes cross -country ski races for youths and adults in the skate and classic styles and a 5K snow shoe event. Register 7:30-9 am Brule Town Hall, race starts at 10:00 am. More information can be found here or call 218-590-3051 or 218-348-5200. Warm winters don't just cramp the style of outdoor recreationists like skiers or snowmobilers. It also has the potential for economic impact on loggers who do a lot of their work while the ground is frozen. When many people consider winter a "dead time of year," it is actually one of the busiest times on the state forest. It is very common to see trucks hauling loads of wood out of the forest this time of year. When summer finally hits and annual vacationers return to the area for camping and canoeing it will be fun to hear what they think of the remodeling projects we conducted on the forest while they were away. - Edwin Koepp, visitor services associate

Ashland DNR Service Center area

Pattison State Park -

Cross country skiing at Pattison State Park is still very good to excellent. We received an inch of snow on 2/23 to dress up the trail that was newly groomed on 2/22. - Kevin Feind, property supervisor

- Phillip Brown, Ranger

Park Falls DNR Service Center area

Upper Chippewa Basin fisheries report (Price, Rusk, Sawyer Taylor and inland Ashland and Iron counties) -

Ice conditions have firmed up a fair amount with some colder nights in the last few weeks and most lakes now have 10 to 14 inches of double layered ice. With the double-layered ice, there is hard crust of 3 to 6 inches of ice on top, with a several inch thickness of water/slush sandwiched between a solid lower layer of ice. In addition, there are still quite a few areas of surface slush and along with the double-layered ice, this continues to limit most ice travel to ATVs and snowmobiles. Some mild weekend weather did bring out a bunch of fishermen to the Northwoods lakes and they met with variable success. Walleye were the target for many of these anglers and action was spotty. The best success was in the early morning or late afternoon hours and the fish were being found on mud flats or near break lines in 6' to 12 feet of water. Medium suckers were providing the best action and most of the walleye were in the 12" to 16" size, though a few in the low 20-inch range were also reported. Northern pike action was fair, with the fish being found in shallower water during the mid-day hours. Large golden shiners fished near or over old weed beds in 3' to 6 feet of water provided the most consistent action. Panfish have continued their relatively consistent trend of the last few weeks and some decent catches of perch and crappie have been made. The crappie have been found suspended a few feet off the bottom in deep-water areas, and perch have been showing up in greater numbers on the mid-depth mud flats. Small fatheads have worked the best for both the perch and crappie.

- Skip Sommerfeldt, senior fisheries biologist, Park Falls

Flambeau River State Forest -

Most roads in icy and snow covered conditions. The Flambeau Hills Cross Country Ski Trail conditions at the Flambeau River State Forest due to warm temperatures are icy and we hope to groom them before the weekend if weather conditions permit. The snowmobile trails on the Flambeau are in good condition and being enjoyed by lots of folks around the state. The snowshoe trails are in fair condition. There is no better way to get great exercise and enjoy close encounters with the wildlife in the area. Fishing has been slow. You wouldn't know it by the fun folks are having out there. The lakes are dotted with fishing shacks, tip-ups and buckets. Sounds like the weekend temps will be warmer and fun will be had by all, not just the well-below freezing diehards. Temperatures this week are on a warming cycle. The lows have been in the teens and low 20s. The highs for the rest of the week will be hovering right around 30 degrees or more. Today (Tuesday, the 23rd of February) and tonight are our only days with a chance of snow (40percent). It sure feels like spring in the air.

There is a cow-calf elk group that has been seen often off of Hwy W, a mile or so west of the Flambeau River State Forest Headquarters. They look fat and sassy. We treasure each glimpse of them. The logging operations on the Flambeau are working very hard. With the oncoming warming temperatures it will be more difficult to move the logs and pulp out of the forest. So they are taking advantage of every moment till the road banns go on. With the warming of temperatures some of the birds are definitely displaying. The ravens and bald eagles begin nesting, the deer shed their antlers and the wolves are mating. Join us on Saturday, March 5, 2016 from 11:00 am - 1:00 pm. at the new Flambeau River State Forest Headquarters as Ron Weber shares a screening of Learning from the Land to help celebrate "Aldo Leopold Weekend." This video chronicles Leopold's life using various passages from "A Sand County Almanac." A short walk along the Flambeau River will follow with readings from Sand County Almanac. We hope you can come and enjoy some refreshments with us while you are here.

- Diane Stowell, forestry technician and visitor services associate


Northeast Region

Northern Lake Michigan fisheries team report

This report is for the week of February 14th thru February 20th. Very warm weather this past week has led to a lot of standing water on the ice.

- David Boyarski, fisheries supervisor, Sturgeon Bay

Marinette County -

The Menominee River is open from Hattie Street to Stephenson Island. Open water anglers are fishing for walleye and trout using Rapala's and jig heads tipped with plastics. 6th Street slip is still producing walleye in 30 feet of water using jigs and minnows or jigging Raps. Some panfish are being caught in the slip by Harbor Town Marine using wax worms and minnow heads. - Kevin King, fisheries technician, Peshtigo

Oconto County -

Pike anglers are having success from Oconto Breakwater Park to Oconto Park II. Smelt in the round or large shiner minnows fished in 4 to 12 feet of water have been producing some nice fish. Some perch, rock bass and blue gill are being caught at the launch at Oconto Park II using minnows and wax worms. Sorting of perch is a must as many small fish are being caught. - Kevin King, fisheries technician, Peshtigo

Brown County -

Many anglers took advantage of the warm weather this past weekend and got out fishing all along the east shore of Green Bay. Those anglers fishing out of Volk's landing were still driving on the ice or parking just on the ice and heading out. There was a lot of standing water and slush making travel difficult. Anglers fishing out of Bayshore Park reported good numbers of whitefish and up to 30" of ice in spots. Anglers from Dyckesville and Red River reported decent numbers of Whitefish with 16-20" of ice with a lot of standing water and slush. Sugar Creek was packed with anglers over the weekend with many anglers reporting limits, with 13" of ice reported and clear water. Same goes for those anglers fishing out of Rite's Cove, limits reported for whitefish and anglers reported seeing bottom. Although a few anglers reported ice shifting and cracks forming. - John Taylor, fisheries technician, Green Bay

Door County -

Anglers fishing in and around Little Sturgeon had good reports for whitefish off of Lime Kiln Rd and Big Rock Pl again this week. Many anglers brought their shacks either close to shore or on land before the warm weather and rain hit on Friday. The landings at Carmody Park, Wood Ln, Riley Bay Rd and Sand Bay were pretty sloppy with many inches of standing water over the weekend. Those anglers fishing out of Sand Bay reported good numbers of Whitefish with many limits reported here as well. Anglers fishing out of Carmody Park for Whitefish reported decent numbers and moderate success for Perch. Many were seeing smaller perch. Anglers continue to fish for Northern Pike off of the Sturgeon Bay Yacht club, Bullhead Point and in Sawyer Harbor. Many anglers are taking to the ice out of Potawatomi Park and the Idlewild landing to access Sawyer Harbor. Anglers have also been seen accessing the ice off of Cabot's Point and Wood Ln in high numbers this past week. Anglers have reported open water and ice moving north of Sturgeon Bay around the Murphy Park area. Remember to use caution when on the ice as the ice may shift or cracks form at any time from the high winds and varying temperatures. Always check the local conditions before venturing out on the unfamiliar ice. - Emily Kurszewski, fisheries technician, Sturgeon Bay

Green Bay DNR Service Center area

Brown County -

All snowmobile trails in Brown County will be closing Friday, Feb 19th at 6:00am. For more information about Brown County's snowmobile trails, visit the Travel WI webpage or call (920) 448 4466. Spotted 2 Canada geese in the Town of Eaton on the afternoon of 02/24/16, signs of spring returning. - Ka Yeng Vue, conservation warden, Green Bay

Wautoma DNR Service Center area

Waupaca County -

Snow is leaving us. Some bare spots have appeared in open areas, but plenty of snow in the woods. Trails are down to bare soil and closed. Still 20" of ice on most area lakes, no fishing update as pressure has been light. Trout streams are fishable if you want to, have noticed a couple of vehicles parked along streams. Did hear a turkey gobble on Monday, think he is a little optimistic! Birds have been singing much more the mornings lately. - Karl Kramer, wildlife technician, Wautoma

Hartman Creek State Park -

Hartman Creek State Park received warm weather this past weekend resulting in further deterioration of our cross country ski trails. As of February 22, 2016 they are in poor condition. The single track bike trails remain in good condition, but icy spots exist. It is recommended that all park visitors use caution due to the possibility of icy areas throughout the parks trail systems.

- Jarrod Kehring, ranger

Oshkosh DNR Service Center area

Winnebago County -

The sturgeon spearing season is soon coming to an end closing this weekend on Lake Winnebago. The season will more than likely go a full 16 days as water clarity and ice conditions have made it a tough year. The weekend forecast is predicting mid 40's which means landings and ice will deteriorate quickly. Battle on Bago ice fishing tournament is also occurring this weekend so it will be a busy weekend for Lake Winnebago and the City of Oshkosh. Tickets to weigh in a fish must be purchased before 6:00 am Friday. All people venturing out onto the ice need to be very cautious and prepared for the worst. Putting an ATV or a vehicle through the ice is extremely dangerous and very costly from a financial standpoint. When in doubt just walk out on the ice but still have a lifejacket, throw rope and ice picks. - Jason Higgins, conservation warden, Oshkosh

Ice on the Winnebago system is variable in quantity and quality. Clubs may be pulling their bridges very soon. Some groups are beginning to warn people to only use ATVs or snowmobiles on the lake. Everyone is urged to use caution and check the ice frequently, as conditions can change rapidly. Some reports of walleyes being caught on Winnebago and the upper lakes, but overall action remains slow for game and panfish species. White bass continue to provide good action.

- Kendall Kamke, fisheries resource manager, Oshkosh


Southeast Region

Southern Lake Michigan fisheries team report - This report was submitted February 22, 2016. DNR does not verify or guarantee the reported ice conditions, and anglers should proceed at their own risk. Please use extreme caution as conditions can change rapidly. Compiled from creel clerks by Cheryl Masterson and Jeffrey Zinuticz, fisheries technicians, Milwaukee

Ozaukee County -

The Port Washington harbor is open near the power plant discharge. Brown trout and occasional steelhead are being caught, and anglers have been using a variety of baits such as spawn, shiners, and crank baits.

Milwaukee County -

In Milwaukee the lagoon behind Lakeshore State Park is still ice covered, but ice thickness varies greatly. Occasional browns have been caught out of the lagoon. Anglers have reported open water in the Milwaukee River in the vicinity of Estabrook Park, and there should be steelhead in the river this time of year. In addition, the Milwaukee inner harbor area is free of ice and accessible to anglers. The Bender Park launch is reportedly open, and boaters have been catching fair numbers of browns off of the Oak Creek Power Plant.

Sturtevant DNR Service Center area

Recent warm temperatures have changed the wintery conditions in the area. Snow cover is virtually gone resulting in the snowmobile trails in Racine and Kenosha Counties remaining closed, possibly for the season. Early migrants have shown up in the area signaling the start of the spring bird migration. Red wing blackbirds have arrived at the Bong Recreation Area this week. Large flocks of geese have been seen in flooded farm fields and small groups of Sandhill Cranes have also been seen in farm fields and heard flying overhead.

- Marty Johnson, wildlife biologist, Sturtevant


South Central Region

Horicon DNR Service Center area

Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area -

Phenology is in full swing at the Horicon Marsh. Warmer weather and recent south winds have blown in an abundance of migrating Canada Geese and mallards. We have also had sightings of hooded mergansers, robins, sandhill cranes and swans. Now is the time to start thinking about planning your spring canoe, kayak and hiking adventures to experience the migration for yourself!

Don't forget that your current hunting and fishing licenses will be expiring on March 31st. Now is the perfect time to research and plan for what license combinations will be your best value for the upcoming year.

- Jennifer Wirth, visitor services specialist

Fitchburg DNR Service Center area

Columbia County -

Spring is definitely in the air! Sandhill cranes have been seen flying through the air and last weekend huge flocks of robins descended on the area filling the air with their cheery song. Bluebirds have been actively checking out houses, so if you have a bluebird house that hasn't been cleaned out from last year, now is the time to do it. With the warm temperatures/rain last weekend, most of the snow has disappeared from the landscape in the county. With the bare ground and fuel - this means that fire danger will soon be increasing, and burn permits are again required. Maple syrup buckets are being set out in the woods already.

- Sara Kehrli, wildlife biologist, Poynette

Dane County -

With the warming temps we've had some really good pushes of early spring migrants including sandhill cranes, geese, ducks and blackbirds. Lower Mud lake in Dane county is a really great place to see waterfowl right now including daily reports of white-fronted geese and a lingering long-tailed duck. Breeding bird activity is picking up. Wild turkeys are strutting in fields in their winter flocks, resident birds (cardinals, chickadees, doves) are all singing and displaying and great-horned owl chicks should begin to hatch in the next week or so.

- Andy Paulios, wildlife biologist, Fitchburg


West Central Region

La Crosse DNR Service Center area

Vernon County -

Warmer nights have increased raccoon, skunk, and opossum activity levels. Opossums are Wisconsin's sole marsupial mammal. These interesting marsupials mate in mid to late winter, and most young are born in March and early April after a rapid 13 day gestation period. New-born opossums are partially developed, lacking fully formed hearts, lungs, and kidneys. They climb into their mother's protective pouch, known as a marsupium, and remain there for 60-70 days, suckling continuously, undergoing further growth and development. Commonly believed to possess minimal intelligence, opossums rank above dogs in intelligence when subjected to learning tests. Adult opossums possess 50 teeth, more than any other mammal in WI, and are immune to rattlesnake venom. They serve an important function in food webs as they consume many harmful insects and clean up lots of carrion.

- Dave Matheys, wildlife biologist, Viroqua

Black River Falls DNR Service Center area

Black River State Forest -

Warmer temperatures this last week melted a lot of snow in the area. Bare ground is showing in fields and open areas. Cross-country ski trails are in very poor condition. Snowshoe trails remain open but visitors may find it easier to walk the trails due to snow melt. Snowmobile trails are closed. ATV trails remain open but are very wet in some areas, please ride with caution. Early spring migrants are starting to move through the area. Bald eagle, hawks, brown creepers, chickadees, and pileated woodpeckers have been seen around the forest in increasing numbers this last week. Temperatures are expected to warm up this weekend with highs in the 40s to low 50s with a chance of rain/snow on Sunday.

- Emily Alf, visitor services associate

Eau Claire DNR Service Center area

Hoffman Hills State Recreation Area -

The ski trails are in pretty rough shape with the warm weather and rain. Trails are not expected to be groomed until we get additional snow. Snowmobile trails are now closed in Dunn and Eau Claire Counties. Starting to see signs of spring with geese pairing up and scouting out nesting ponds.

- Calvin Kunkel, ranger

Red Cedar State Trail -

The ski trails are in pretty rough shape with the warm weather and rain. Trails are not expected to be groomed until we get additional snow. Snowmobile trails are now closed in Dunn and Eau Claire Counties. Starting to see signs of spring with geese pairing up and scouting out nesting ponds.

- Calvin Kunkel, ranger

Lake Wissota State Park -

Species of birds we have been seeing or hearing include: mourning doves, nuthatches, ravens, black capped chickadees, pileated woodpeckers, barred owls, and bald eagles. As the park office is not regularly staffed at this time of year, please use the yellow self-registration pay posts located at the office entrance. The cross-country ski trails are going through a period of freeze-thaw conditions and consequently are not being groomed making for poor conditions. Call the park office at 715-382-4574 for the most current trail conditions.

- Dave Hladilek, park manager

Wisconsin Rapids DNR Service Center area

Portage County -

Trumpeter swans have been spotted utilizing the Wisconsin River corridor in Wood and Portage County. - Bryan R. Lockman, conservation warden, Stevens Point

Last Revised: Thursday, February 25, 2016

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