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Outdoor Report

Published March 10, 2016 by the Central Office

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Wisconsin has experienced some unseasonably warm weather in the last week with daytime temperatures in the 50s and 60s and even a low 70 reported in Milwaukee. The warm weather has melted most of the snow cover statewide, with just snow surviving in some forested areas of the Northwoods. Snowmobile and cross-country ski trails are now closed statewide and most will remain so even if the state does experience a late season snowfall.

State park and forest trails that were groomed for skiing are now open again to hiking, but most properties are reporting that rail-trail, mountain bike and horse trails are closed, as conditions are soft and muddy and use of trails in these conditions can cause significant damage to trail surfaces.

With the general inland game fish season now closed except on those waters open to game fishing year-round, only a few panfish anglers have been venturing out, but ice conditions are rapidly deteriorating and many shorelines in southern and central Wisconsin are opening up, making access difficult and dangerous.

Most anglers on Green Bay are removing fishing shelters prior to this Sunday's deadline as waters are rapidly opening up. Anglers were out in high numbers around Sturgeon Bay last weekend with many limits for whitefish reported. Anglers were open water fishing the Fox River at Voyageur Park for walleye but success rates have been low, though with the warmer weather that is expect this to change.

Raccoon, skunk, muskrat, mink, and opossum activity has increased as temperatures have increased and snow has departed. Wild turkeys have been strutting and starting their spring courtship. Flocks are breaking up and the large groups of toms and jakes have already decreased in size as they establish their spring pecking order.

With the warm weather and south winds there has been a significant increase in spring migrants sighted this week, including red-winged blackbirds, killdeer, robins, song sparrows, swamp sparrows, bluebirds, turkey vultures and more. Other early migrants returning to breeding territories include American woodcock, great blue herons and eastern meadowlarks. There was a heavy waterfowl migration across the southern half of the state, including common goldeneyes, all three mergansers, green-winged teal, pintail, wood ducks, and many others. Greater white-fronted geese are moving through in numbers, as are large flocks of Canada geese and occasional cackling, snow, and Ross's geese. Canada geese are staking out territory and will begin nesting soon. Sandhill cranes are courting and dancing. Bald eagles are incubating eggs and some great horned owls already have chicks.

Maple syrup season has gotten off to a very slow start due to mild temperatures, especially overnight lows staying above freezing. One producer placed out 670 taps late last week and harvested 370 gallons of sap on Monday. The 10-day forecast does not show any significant changes to overnight lows. The concern is that trees will bud out soon resulting in an early end of the season.

A number of observers reported seeing leopard frogs, spring peepers have been heard in the south and salamanders were active with the warm temperatures. Unfortunately the warm weather has also brought out reports from shed hunters and maple tappers finding the first ticks crawling around on them.

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Upcoming State Natural Area Workday

Get outside Saturday, March 12 from 9 a.m. to noon to cut up [PDF] buckthorn at Bluff Creek State Natural Area. Come cure your cabin fever and help volunteers during our monthly Southern Kettle Moraine SNA workdays on the second Saturday. Enjoy a short hike, then help cut and pile brush, learn something, meet knowledgeable people, and enjoy the beauty of this fen area in the process. Buckthorn can spread and shade out rare fen plants at this site. No skills needed you will be trained onsite. - Jared Urban, conservation biologist, Dane

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Statewide Birding Report

Spring has most definitely sprung in the bird world. This week featured heavy waterfowl migration across the southern half of the state, including common goldeneyes, all three mergansers, green-winged teal, pintail, wood ducks, and many others. Greater white-fronted geese are moving through in numbers, as are large flocks of Canada geese and occasional cackling, snow, and Ross's geese. Best viewing is at sheet water ponds in ag fields, marshes with open water, and various Lake Michigan vantages. Northern water bodies remain largely frozen but small numbers of arriving ducks have been found all the way to Lake Superior, including trumpeter swans at widespread locales. Many early migrants have returned as far north as Eau Claire, Wausau, and Green Bay areas including killdeer, red-winged and rusty blackbirds, flickers, bluebirds, meadowlarks, American woodcock, grackles, great blue herons, song sparrows, sandhill cranes, and the first Eastern phoebes. Overhead, raptors on the move include bald and golden eagles, red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks, northern harriers, turkey vultures, and American kestrels. Northern saw-whet owls have begun tooting in woodlands, especially up north, while barred owls should be entering nest mode statewide. Great horned owls are at least on eggs now and some already have chicks. Some other species initiating breeding activity include great blue herons nest building at rookeries, bald eagles incubating eggs, sandhill cranes and American woodcock performing courtship displays, and peregrine falcons returning to nest sites. Winter isn't quite done yet, however, as snowy owls, common redpolls, northern shrikes, short-eared owls, rough-legged hawks, and other winter visitors remain across much of the state. The spring migration is a magical time, each warm day with south winds bringing new birds to the state. Get out and enjoy it. - Ryan Brady, Bureau of Wildlife Management research scientist, Ashland

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Northern Region

Superior DNR Service Center area

Brule River State Forest - Winter seems to be behind us as rivers of melting snow and ice rush downhill. The mouth of the Brule is almost clear of ice and the frozen shores on Lake Superior are disintegrating with every wave that bashes itself against those picturesque ice formations. Temperatures have been in the 50s this week and expected to continue in that fashion. Most of the river is open the mouth should be open within days. The steelhead opener is just a few weeks away, Saturday, March 26. Please be sure to check your updated Guide to Wisconsin Trout Fishing Regulations 2015-2016 as there have been changes affecting the Brule. The ski season on the Afterhours trail is all but over. All winter recreational trails under the management of the Douglas County Forestry Department have closed for the season with the exception of a few trail segments located on abandoned railroad grades: The clubs are actively working on closing gates at this time, and please remember It is critical that we respect the landowners who allow us to use their property...please review the information posted on county trail reports carefully before trail riding and confirm that you are using open trails. Numerous deer have been seen feeding along roadsides and fields indicating a good winter survival rate. The first skunk of the year was also seen, another tell-tale aroma that reminds us that spring is here. Wildlife typically become more active in spring, be on the lookout for deer and other wildlife when driving in the area. Visit dnr.wi.gov keywords "car killed deer" for more information regarding steps to take if you are involved in a vehicle accident involving wildlife. DNR staff are conducting their winter health and pregnancy assessment on deer that are either hit by cars or found dead due to other factors. If you are interested in helping DNR officials in this assessment and see an intact deer from now to April, feel free to call your local DNR office or service center. - Edwin Koepp, visitor services associate

Spooner DNR Service Center area

Washburn County - Maple syrup season has gotten off to a very slow start due to mild temperatures, especially overnight lows staying above freezing. One local producer placed out 670 taps late last week and harvested 370 gallons of sap on Monday. Reports from others indicate similar results. The 10-day forecast does not show any significant changes to overnight lows. The concern is that trees will bud out soon resulting in an end of the season that never really started. Killdeer sightings were observed this past weekend and based on detailed recording keeping this is at least 10 days earlier than average. Wood duck and Canada goose sightings are common. - Dave Swanson, conservation warden, Minong

Park Falls DNR Service Center area

Flambeau River State Forest - Due to the drastic reduction in snow depths the Flambeau's trail conditions, cross-country ski, snowmobile and snowshoe trails, are closed unless the forest receive a large snowfall. The trail systems can be used for hiking. As spring sets in nature is at its busiest, so get out, hike and watch the action. Fishing has been slow. Anglers can still catch panfish but the warm temps have made the ice unsafe for vehicular travel. The rest of the week is supposed to be warm so call the office at the Flambeau River State Forest Headquarters for an update on the ice (715-332-5271 ext. 101). The Flambeau River is partially open making it unsafe. The great horned owls will be soon hatching their eggs if they haven't already. This large and usually solitary owl can be heard at night "ho hoo hoo hoododo hooooo hoo". They roost during the day in trees in very secluded areas but you can hear them hooting at night along the edges of wooded areas. Some trumpeter swans have been seen and the geese were honking early this morning. The sap is running but the high temperatures are making the red maple buds swell. Hopefully the nights will be cold enough to keep the sap flowing. The drastic reduction of the snow levels (it's even bare under the pines) will indeed make the movement of wildlife easier. Many of the creeks and small rivers have open water and beaver are dispersing and out looking for fresh vegetation, and river otters give birth in March. Snowshoe hare coats are beginning to turn brown, male red-winged black birds have returned, and grouse began drumming. Road bans went into effect at noon Monday, so the logging trucks in this area are done hauling on county and state forest roads till the frost is out and the roads dry up. It's just in time for the loggers to have a little time off for maintaining machinery and catching up on other work. - Judy Freeman, visitor services associate

Woodruff DNR Service Center area

Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest - We had a good cross-country ski season even with the low snow totals this year. Crews are done grooming for the season and looking forward to the spring - summer hiking and biking season. - Tony Martinez, forestry facilities worker

Antigo DNR Service Center area

Langlade County - In the Antigo Area the snow is retreating rather quickly. Most farm fields are bare and snow cover in the wooded area averages around 6 inches. Nesting pairs of Canada geese have arrived on many wetlands for the first time this year. Wild turkeys can be heard gobbling and seen displaying throughout the farm country. The ice on area lakes is still holding up fairly well, but as warm weather continues anglers need to exercise caution as they head out to fish. - Eric J. Borchert, wildlife technician, Antigo

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Northeast Region

Northern Lake Michigan fisheries team report

This report is for the week of Feb. 28 thru March 5. With the warmer weather the landings are starting to show the strain, with melt water at the landings and mud. Most anglers are walking out onto the ice or using four wheelers.

Marinette County - The Peshtigo Harbor area has been producing some good pike action fishing the same depths and baits. Anglers are walking onto the ice or using four-wheelers. Open water fishing on the Menominee River by the dam at Hattie Street are catching some trout and a few walleye. Stick baits, jigs, and zip lures are being fished from both sides of the river and off the fishermen's walkway. Anglers are still catching walleye in the Turn Basin on the Menominee River entering the ice at the Sixth Street Slip. Anglers are fishing in 30 feet of water using jigs and live bait, electronics are recommended. - Kevin King, fisheries technician, Peshtigo

Oconto County - Anglers at the mouth of the Oconto River are catching whitefish and the occasional perch using a small jig tied a foot to 18 inches above a jig head. The top bait is tipped with a minnow head or wax worm. Most of the action on the Bay from Oconto Breakwater Park and Oconto Park II has been for pike. Anglers are setting up in 4 to 12 feet of water using tip-ups with dead smelt in the round fished on bottom or large shiner minnows fished just off the bottom. A few perch are still being caught at Oconto Park II with the fish running small. - Kevin King, fisheries technician, Peshtigo

Brown County - Voyageur Park only had a few anglers early this week, open water fishing. Most are after walleye using jigs and plastics, zip lures, or stick baits. The success rate has been low but with the warmer weather expect this to change. A few anglers were fishing the Long Tail area off of Lineville Road searching for perch. Small jigs tipped with minnows or wax worms are producing some fish. The number anglers out of the Bayshore/Dyckesville area have decreased as the fishing has slowed for whitefish and the ice conditions are dwindling. Sugar Creek and Rites Cove continue to be busy locations. Some anglers are still driving on the ice out of Dyckesville and Red River but for the most part anglers were walking on or using ATVs. - Emily Kurszewski, fisheries technician, Sturgeon Bay

Door County - Many anglers took to the ice this weekend to enjoy the warm weather and the remaining ice as it is starting to disappear and will continue with the warm weather and rain projected for this week. Anglers around Sturgeon Bay this weekend were out in high numbers with many limits for whitefish reported from Potawatomi State Park to Oak Avenue. Some anglers are still driving on the ice in Sawyer Harbor but many choose to use ATVs, sleds or walk on. Ice depths varied from different anglers but on average they reported about 12 inches of ice in and around the Sawyer Harbor area. A few smaller perch were caught in Sawyer Harbor over the weekend along with some walleyes off of Bullhead Point. The ice in and around the canal is dark in places with cracks forming and the open water has spread past, just the shipping canal. There is ice still in the dock area at the Yacht Club but no anglers were seen there this week. High Cliff Road and Cabot's Point continue to remain busy with many anglers accessing the ice at these locations as well. Little Sturgeon Bay continues to be busy with anglers taking to the ice in large numbers at Lime Kiln Road, Big Rock Place, and Sand Bay. Numbers of whitefish continue to be caught at all these locations as well. Most anglers were accessing the ice on ATVs or sleds but some were driving on out of Carmody Park. Anglers all across the area were bringing their shacks either close to shore or onto land in preparations for the warmer temperatures this week. The ice breaker went through up by Chambers Island this week and there continues to be open pockets of water and cracks forming all the time. 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

Peshtigo DNR Service Center area

Marinette County - The warm weather (65 degrees on Tuesday!) has melted the vast majority of snow in Marinette County. Ditches are flowing, turkeys are strutting and the chances of ice-fishing safely are dwindling. Robins and red-winged blackbirds have been reported in the southern portions of the county. Ice on area waters is deteriorating quickly and many areas with flow have open water. The newly renovated Peshtigo Shooting Range is currently closed to allow the roads and parking areas to firm up and to allow staff to make more improvements to the range. - Aaron McCullough, wildlife technician, Wausaukee

Sturgeon Bay DNR Service Center area

Peninsula State Park - We are now allowing hiking on all winter trails. They are icy, muddy, and wet. Bike trails are closed for biking--this includes fat bikes until the trail conditions are dry enough to open for that use. - Jane Barnowsky, visitor services associate

Potawatomi State Park - Temperatures are in the 50s this week, so the snow is almost gone. Ski and snowmobile trails may now be used for hiking. Trails are ice covered and wet in some spots. Bike trails are closed due to the wet conditions. Ice on Sawyer Harbor is deteriorating rapidly. Some fishermen are still walking out to look for whitefish, northern, walleye, and perch. - Lois M. Hanson, visitor services associate

Wautoma DNR Service Center area

Waupaca County - The meltdown is happening. Snow trail sports are done for the season. Still plenty of ice, but it soon will be very difficult to get on the ice due to deteriorating near shore ice. The Fox River is mainly ice free. Some people are starting to shore fish. There were reports of a few small walleyes being caught, but the water is plenty cold yet. Sandhill cranes now back. Turkeys were gobbling in Wautoma this morning. Still waiting to hear the first grouse drum! Deer are really out feeding in the fields with the snow loss. Very few ducks are back yet, not enough open water. - Karl Kramer, wildlife technician, Wautoma

Waushara County - Ice in Waushara County certainly took a hit from the recent melt, rains, and warm weather. Even lakes that had a substantial amount of ice as of last week are getting sloppy fast. The edges of these lakes go first and that is where most folks get in trouble. Do not trust any ice at this point in the season, if you do decide to try to brave some of the last ice always make sure you have a partner, ice picks, a rope, and let others know where you are going and when you plan to be back. Wildlife is starting to move into their spring habits. Robbins are back, cardinals have been singing, finches and chickadees have been fluttering around, and most importantly for the upcoming seasons - turkeys have been strutting and starting their spring courtship. It won't be long as the flocks are breaking up and the large groups of toms and jakes have already decreased in size as they establish their spring pecking order. This is also a great time to get out into the woods and do some shed hunting--yet another reason to enjoy the spring warmth. A reminder for all--with the warm weather comes tick season especially in Central Wisconsin. I have already found a few crawling around. Make sure to check yourself and your pets after anytime spent in the woods or fields. - Ben Mott, conservation warden, Wautoma

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Southeast Region

Milwaukee DNR Service Center area

Kettle Moraine State Forest, Lapham Peak Unit - Due to the warm temps, all trails are now open to hiking. Hope everyone had a great ski season. The mountain bike/horse trail is currently closed to bikes and horses until the trail dries. It is open to hikers only. - Brian Jacquette, ranger

Kettle Moraine State Forest, Northern Unit - As of March 8, warm spring-like temperatures have returned to the forest, with a forecast for temperatures in the 40s and 50s through next weekend. The Greenbush ski trails were last groomed on Saturday, however the snow is not likely to last through the week. Grooming operations at Zillmer ended on Feb 18, and hikers are permitted to use the Zillmer trails. Be advised that the mountain bike and horse trails are closed until further notice, to allow the trails time to dry and stabilize, and to prevent long-term damage from rutting. - Deb Harder, visitor services associate

Plymouth DNR Service Center area

Theresa Marsh State Wildlife Area - The DNR and Conservation Congress are still looking for qualified people to fill the "Forestry" and "Transportation" stakeholder positions on the Washington County Deer Advisory Council (CDAC) and the Forestry stakeholder position on the Ozaukee CDAC. To apply, search "CDAC" on the DNR website and click on "CDAC Application". The March Washington County CDAC deer meeting will be 7 p.m., Tuesday, March 15at the Daniel Boone Conservation League club house. The Ozaukee March CDAC meeting is 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 16 at Riveredge Nature Center. The main purpose of this year's two spring CDAC meetings are to recommend antlerless deer permit numbers and deer season frameworks for the 2016 hunting season. A second meeting will be held in each county in late April to finalize the recommendations. - Tom Isaac, wildlife biologist, Hartford

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South Central Region

Horicon DNR Service Center area

Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area - With the warm weather and south winds there has been a significant increase of sandhill cranes, Canada geese, red-winged blackbirds and more. A number of white-fronted geese have been mixed in with larger flocks of Canada geese so search the flooded farm fields of Dodge County closely. Killdeer, robins, song sparrows, swamp sparrows, bluebirds, wood ducks, turkey vultures and more spring migrants have all been sighted this week. Canada geese are staking out territory and will begin nesting soon. Sandhill cranes are courting and dancing. There is still ice on portions of the marsh but conditions are deteriorating quickly. Prescribed cattail burns over the ice have ended and staff are preparing for the spring prescribed burn season. Spring is on the way so join us on Saturday, March 19 at the Horicon Marsh Education and visitor center for a "Spring Thaw Hike"! More information can be found at www.horiconmarsh.org or by calling 920-387-7893. - Elizabeth Herzmann, natural resources educator

Fitchburg DNR Service Center area

Columbia County - Spring seems to have sprung - two leopard frogs were seen on Tuesday at Peter Helland Wildlife Area hopping across roads. We also kicked up a woodcock and snow geese were seen flying near Schoenenberg Marsh. Shed hunters last weekend reported finding the first ticks crawling around on them. With the early warm up, prescribed burning is set to begin next week. Prescribed burns are very beneficial to native plants, particularly grassland, sedge meadow, and savanna species and the animals species that live in these environments. Burning can help to keep woody vegetation out of these habitats, remove duff layer that impedes some animals' movements, attract more insects for many species to feed on, promote robust plant growth and seed production, and even cracks some fire dependent species' seeds. Turkey hunters in particular may want to scout burned units afterwards; turkeys frequently pick through burn units for insects that are now very easy to find. Properties with planned burns this spring are Dekorra Public Hunting Grounds, and the Mud Lake, Paradise Marsh,, Peter Helland,, Pine Island and French Creek wildlife areas. - Sara Kehrli, wildlife biologist, Poynette

Dane County - Lots of phenology this week in Dane County. Heavy bird migration this week including mass waterfowl migration across the southern half of the state. Great waterfowl viewing right now on sheet water ponds in agricultural fields as well as in marshes that are opening up from the warm temps. Early migrants are returning to breeding territories including American woodcock, robins, red-winged blackbirds, grackles, great blue herons and Eastern meadowlarks. A number of observers reported leopard frogs and salamanders active on Tuesday with the warm temperatures. Turkeys are displaying in fields. A number of silver maples and willows have started to flower. - Andy Paulios, wildlife biologist, Fitchburg

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West Central Region

La Crosse DNR Service Center area

Vernon County - An immature golden eagle was observed late last week by a sharp-eyed birder in central Crawford County near the Village of Gays Mills. A few male wild turkeys have been seen strutting and displaying and heard gobbling. 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 the snow. Raccoon, skunk, muskrat, mink, and opossum activity has increased as temperatures have increased and snow has departed. 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

Eau Claire DNR Service Center area

Eau Claire County -Ice anglers on Half Moon Lake have been catching some bluegills and perch--use caution to avoid thin ice along some areas of the shoreline. The game fish season remains open downriver of the Chippewa River Dells hydro dam in Eau Claire. Boaters and shoreline anglers have been enjoying the warmer temperatures--a few walleyes are being caught. No fishing is allowed March 1 until the first Saturday in May from the Lake Altoona dam downstream 500 feet to the first island. The game fish season remains open downstream of the Eau Claire River fish refuge. The Eau Claire area has a lot of paved trails for biking and hiking in the Chippewa Valley. - Scott Thiede, conservation warden, Eau Claire

Lake Wissota State Park - Species of birds seen or heard include: the first pair of great blue herons, red winged blackbirds, mergansers, Canada geese, sandhill cranes, robins, mourning doves, nuthatches, ravens, black capped chickadees, pileated woodpeckers, great horned owls, barred owls, and bald eagles. Sugar maple tapping is in progress throughout the area. With the weather conditions, it may be a short season this year. Most of our trails are thawing and are very wet, soft and have some icy patches. The horse trails remain closed as we await drier conditions. The rivers have open water, as do a few of the larger lakes. Small lakes and most bays continue to hold ice. - Dave Hladilek, park manager



Last Revised: Thursday, March 10, 2016

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