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Outdoor Report

Published March 17, 2016 by the Central Office

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An end-of-winter snowstorm dropped up to 6 inches of snow in the far northwestern part of the state, with lesser amounts falling as far south as Park Falls, but warmer temperatures continue in the forecast and the snow is not expected to stay around long.

High water associated with rain and snow closed a portion of Highway 169 leading to Copper Falls State Park from Mellon, but the park remains accessible from the east. The rains also washed out a section of the Tuscobia State Trail near Park Falls and barricades have been put in place at the washout.

Wisconsin's new Go Wild system for issuing fishing, hunting, conservation patron and other licenses and permits went on line March 17. By the end of March, people will also be able to use the system to register boats, all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles and to sign up for hunter and other safety education classes. The online system is accessible through personal computers, smart phone and other mobile devices and at more than 1,000 vendors statewide through http://GoWild.Wi.Gov.

The system went online in time for spring turkey hunters to purchase their turkey licenses, which they need to purchase leftover spring turkey permits that go on sale starting March 21 and are issued for sale by zone, one zone per day through March 25. For information search the DNR website for spring turkey leftover permit availability.

Ice is rapidly going out from lakes across Wisconsin. Lake Mendota in Madison opened this week with just 62 days of ice on the lake during the winter of 2015-2016. With the recent mild weather and heavy rains, ice conditions on nearly all lakes across the Northwoods are now unsafe for any kind of travel. Shoreline areas and inlets and outlets have developed large areas of open water and the ice cover is likely well honeycombed and soft.

On Green Bay the ice in and around Sturgeon Bay is quickly diminishing. The canal is open for the most part, with just some remaining ice from Bay Ship to the Stone Quarry. Southeast Wisconsin received significant rainfall over the past few days, and area tributaries are high and muddy. Smaller streams like the Pike River, Oak Creek, Menomonee River, Sauk Creek, and the Pigeon River will be the first to return to more favorable fishing conditions. Decent numbers of steelhead have been reported in the Root River in the past couple of weeks. The Root River Steelhead Facility is now up and running and DNR crews will begin processing fish next week.

Turkeys are still grouped up in winter flocks but they are displaying and showing breeding activity. Canada geese are staking out nesting territories and will likely commence nesting in the next week or so.

Wetlands are teeming with ducks right now of all species. Whooping cranes have returned to the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. American woodcock are doing their sky dances and breeding displays.

The first mourning cloak butterflies were sighted this weekend. There have been numerous reports of leopard frogs and salamanders active as well as some painted turtles with the warmer weather this past weekend. Maple syrup production has come to a standstill this past week with warm temperatures.

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Leftover spring turkey permits go on sale starting March 21 with Zone 1

The 109,367 leftover permits for the 2016 spring turkey hunting season will be first issued for sale by zone, one zone per day. Each zone will have a designated sales date and will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Extra turkey tags can be purchased at a rate of one per day until the zone and time period sells out or the season closes.

Scheduled sales dates for zones have leftover permits, and are as follows:

After zone-only sales days, all remaining turkey tags will be made available for purchase Saturday, March 26.

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Upcoming State Natural Area Workday

Chiwaukee Prairie State Natural Area 10 a.m.-1 p.m. March 19, 2016. Help Chiwaukee Prairie Preservation Fund volunteers during our monthly workdays on the third Saturday and enjoy the beauty of this rich prairie in the process. Invasive brush (buckthorn, honeysuckle, cherries, ash, etc.) can spread and shade out uncommon plants at this site. Bring a bag lunch to eat afterwards. No skills needed you will be trained onsite. Click for more information. - Jared Urban, conservation biologist, Dane

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Northern Region

Superior DNR Service Center area

Brule River State Forest - Less than a week ago, the mouth of the Brule still had ice on it and sheets of ice lined the shore 50 meters out. After a few days of warmer weather, the mouth cleared and those beautiful formations were swept out to sea. Besides a few patches of snow in the ditches and woods, the snow is just about gone. The river is completely open and water temperatures are about right for fish to start spawning. There are a few locations that fish can be viewed during their spawning run but please resist the temptation to try and catch them. 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. The spring time can be one of the best times to get into the woods. The bugs are not out yet and the forest floor is matted down allowing you to see animal sign that was left from the winter like antler sheds and heavily used trails. Wildlife staff noted that woodcock have returned to the area and the refreshing songs of other birds can be heard, reminding us that winter is done. Swans have been spotted landing on area ponds or wherever they can find open water. The famous, 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. - Edwin Koepp, visitor services associate

Ashland DNR Service Center area

Copper Falls State Park - Highway 169 heading north from Mellen to Copper Falls in underwater and was closed as of March 17. - Todd Hintz, property supervisor

Hayward DNR Service Center area

Tuscobia State Trail - There was also a major washout on the Tuscobia Trail near Park Falls and barricades have been put in place blocking access to this section of trail. - Todd Hintz, property supervisor

Spooner DNR Service Center area

Crex Meadows State Wildlife - Winter seems to be over, most of the flowages are seeing more open water - any ice remaining is slushy and should be gone by the end of the week. Geese and swans are on their nesting grounds, and we are starting to see early migrants such as mallards, hooded mergansers and wood ducks. The roadways throughout the wildlife areas are clear and easily to travel, with the exception of West Refuge Road, which is pretty muddy. Snowmobile trails are closed. Hiking trails are open, but may be muddy and may have some trees across the trails in some areas, so please use caution. Large flocks of crows have been seen moving northward. Interestingly, crows vary in their wintering habits; some live year round in many areas of the United States, others summer farther north into Canada and Alaska and move back to the lower 48 for the winter. Ravens are on the nest. Sandhill Cranes are returning, the first flocks were spotted on Sunday. They return in small groups and stop over to feed, and some staying to nest. Sandhills nest from southern Wisconsin north into central Canada. Trumpeter swans have returned and have claimed their nesting territory, feeding in the wetlands and moving about daily searching for food. Canada geese are already on their nesting sites too. Bald eagles are on nests and likely on eggs. Many nests have been found throughout the wildlife area this spring - one on Phantom Lake Road where Hay Creek Trail intersects, one on the osprey platform on Dike 6, one on a new nest east of the rest area on North Refuge Road, and one on Upper North Fork. Sharp-tailed grouse were reported along Murphys Road. They won't begin displaying until April (generally) but may start earlier with the early spring. Ruffed grouse are starting to drum, and can be found along the roadsides picking up gravel in the late afternoon. Red-winged blackbirds have returned over the weekend, and American tree sparrows have been seen along the roadsides. The first bluebirds and kestrels were reported late last week. Rough-legged hawks and red-tailed hawks are common, and the first male northern harriers have returned. White-tailed deer are common, usually in larger groups as they forage for late-winter foods. Wild turkeys are also in larger flocks this time of year. Otters and mink are easier to find as they play and feed on the ice. Wolves, coyotes and fox have been active in and around the wildlife area - look for their tracks on sandy roads. The first mourning cloak butterflies were sighted this weekend. An early salamander was crossing the road on Sunday. - Kristi Pupak, natural resources educator

Park Falls DNR Service Center area

Upper Chippewa Basin fisheries report (Price, Rusk, Sawyer Taylor and inland Ashland and Iron counties) - With the recent mild weather and heavy rains, ice conditions on nearly all lakes across the Northwoods are now unsafe for any kind of travel. Shoreline areas, inlet and outlet areas have developed large areas of open water and the ice cover is likely well honeycombed and soft. Barring any major cold weather in the next few weeks, the ice fishing season is basically over for this season. Prior to the recent thaw, ice fishing pressure for panfish was rather light. Some anglers were getting a few nice crappie and perch, but most were having a hard time finding many active fish. - Skip Sommerfeldt, senior fisheries biologist, Park Falls

Flambeau River State Forest - Most of the winter snow is gone. Fishing on the Flambeau is pretty slow right now. It sounds like the Redhorse are starting to run up off of Hwy 70 in the northern part of the Forest. Panfish fishing is open. You can catch bluegill, pumpkinseed, crappies, and perch in these lakes. The ice is not safe now and some fishermen are out skirting the open areas in skiffs. The Flambeau River is completely open here off of Hwy W near Winter, with ice chunks floating down river. Male grouse are drumming and trying to entice the girls. They beat their wings creating muffled thumps sounding almost like a motor starting in the distance. Some robins are back, sandhill cranes with their rattling bugle, swans with their nasal honking sounding like a French horn and geese with their musical honking are heading north looking for their place to summer. The great horned owl eggs should be hatched by now and eagles are sitting on their nests. The deer and elk are browsing on vegetation but soon they will be dining on fresh new green shoots sprouting up from the forest floor. The sap from the maples is still running but going slow since this last weekend. Temperatures this coming weekend will be in the low 20s and 30s with highs in the high 30s and low 40s so hopefully sap will continue its flow. Walking trails are open at Lake of the Pines and Little Falls, though the water level is high and it would make it difficult to cross over to Slough Gundy. Hunter walking trails are always open, but you will definitely need high water boots as there are wet areas on the trails. When folks come to bike ride this forest this time of year, we encourage them to use the ATV/UTV trail which is still closed till May 16 to ATV/UTV use. - Diane Stowell, visitor services associate

Woodruff DNR Service Center area

Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest - We had a good ski season even with the low snow totals this year. We are done grooming for the season and looking forward to the spring - summer hiking and biking season. There are rumors that wood ticks are out already. The chickadees are pairing up and woodpeckers are hacking away at trees, but the redpolls are still hanging around. A few chipmunks have made their appearance and the red and gray squirrels are busy chasing each other around. As the snow continues to melt, campgrounds will soon be accessible again and we eagerly anticipate the coming camping season. Firewood gatherers (with a permit) are reminded that they allowed to collect downed wood in campgrounds through April 30. - Kimberly Krawczyk, Visitor Services Associate

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Northeast Region

Northern Lake Michigan fisheries team report

This report is for the period of March 6 through 13. With the warm weather as of late the Menominee, Peshtigo, and Oconto rivers all have open water at their mouths extending out into the Bay. Some ice fishermen are still present in the back Bay areas but the ice continues to deteriorate at a rapid pace. Boats are launching from Oconto Breakwater Park, the Municipal Landing at Peshtigo, and Stephenson Island on the Menominee River, catch rates for walleye have been low with water temperatures around 34 degrees. This is the last ice creel report for 2016. - Kevin King, fisheries technician, Peshtigo

Marinette County - Fishing activity on the Menominee River has switched over to mostly open water with the majority of anglers fishing up by the Hattie Street Dam. Jig and twister tails, small spoons and stick baits are catching a few trout along with the occasional walleye. Water temperatures are still in the low 30s. - Kevin King, fisheries technician, Peshtigo

Oconto County - Anglers are walking out on the ice north of the break wall at Oconto and at Oconto Park I fishing for pike using large shiner minnows or smelt in the round. catch rates have been decent with fish around the 24 inch mark being caught. Anglers are still catching a few perch at Oconto Park II jigging with minnows and wax worms. - Kevin King, fisheries technician, Peshtigo

Door County - The ice in and around the Sturgeon Bay area is quickly diminishing. The canal is open for the most part, some remaining ice from Bay Ship to the Stone Quarry, but open water in most other locations. No anglers were seen accessing the ice around Sturgeon Bay this weekend. Anglers were seen fishing from shore in town off of the old railroad bridge and on boats launching from Sawyer Park boat launch this weekend. There is still some ice remaining in Little Sturgeon, but not without open water in some locations as well. The ice is very dark in color and is seen moving. No anglers were seen accessing the ice this weekend. There appears to be some remaining ice in and around Sawyer Harbor but no routes were scheduled this weekend to see if any anglers were out. Remember to use caution when fishing on late year ice. - Emily Kurszewski, fisheries technician, Sturgeon Bay

Peshtigo DNR Service Center area

Marinette County - Staff saw a morning dove on a nest March 15--spring is definitely in the air. Sandhill cranes, northern harriers and flocks of geese have become a more regular sight. Bluebirds made it to the Wausaukee area over the weekend--so get out and clean out those nesting boxes. Any water with current is now open and inland lake ice has deteriorated significantly. A few brave ice-anglers are still out trying for panfish but the ice is very soft and there is open water along shore. The lakes should be open soon if the spring weather continues. Open water anglers have begun heading to the Peshtigo River in search of walleyes. A few male walleyes are being caught, but the water temps are still only around 35 degrees. - Aaron McCullough, wildlife technician, Wausaukee

Sturgeon Bay DNR Service Center area

Potawatomi State Park - The snow is gone, so ski and snowmobile trails may now be used for hiking. Some portions of the trails are still wet. Bike trails remain closed until trails dry out. Bikers have been riding on the roads. There is still ice on Sawyer Harbor. A path of open water visible from the park's shoreline marks where the Coast Guard ice breaker went through the bay. Sandhill cranes have returned to the area. - Lois M. Hanson, visitor services associate

Wautoma DNR Service Center area

Waupaca County - Wood ducks, northern harriers, kestrels and robins have all returned. Had a report of woodcock peenting, but I have not heard one myself just yet. Jumped a ruffed grouse off his drumming log last Sunday and starting to see migrant flocks of mallards. Fox and Wolf rivers are open, fishing reported to be slow at this time. Last night we got very heavy rain and it is supposed to rain through Thursday - might make fishing tough in the short term. - Karl Kramer, wildlife technician, Wautoma

Waushara County - Wet weather in Waushara County has folks off the lakes for good now it seems. Some bodies of water will have ice out in the near future. The ticks are out in full force, but hopefully this cooler weather at night will have their numbers diminished slightly. Staff would make sure to do thorough checks after being in the field though as a majority of the ticks we see in the county are deer ticks. Wild turkeys continue their spring rituals with some gobbling being heard, but mostly flocks have been breaking up into smaller numbers as their pecking orders are established. Some folks have been out enjoying the early trout catch and release season and having some success. The fish seem spooky if it isn't early or late, but folks are still enjoying the early spring on the streams. - Ben Mott, conservation warden, Wautoma

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Southeast Region

Milwaukee DNR Service Center area

Milwaukee County - Turkey Learn to Hunt workshops and free turkey clinics are being held throughout Southeast Wisconsin. Search "learn to hunt" or "turkey clinics" at dnr.wi.gov for more information. Now is also the time to get outside and enjoy the arrival of spring. With the warm weather, frogs have started calling in urban ponds, and some of our early spring ephemeral wildflowers could be blooming soon. Look for increased activity from deer, hawks, and squirrels, and be on the lookout for displaying turkeys, even within the city! Wildlife such as coyotes, raccoon, and fox are also more active, looking for recently uncovered food from the snow melt and in search of a mate with the days lengthening and the onset of the breeding season. If you spot coyote sign or see a coyote, submit these observations to the Milwaukee County Coyote Watch program by logging in to the iNaturalist page. This information will help us learn more about coyotes in Milwaukee County and monitor behavior. - Dianne Robinson, wildlife biologist, Waukesha

Southern Lake Michigan fisheries team report - Compiled from creel clerks by Cheryl Masterson and Jeffrey Zinuticz, fisheries technicians, Milwaukee

Southeast Wisconsin received significant rainfall over the past few days, and area tributaries are high and muddy. Smaller streams like the Pike River, Oak Creek, Menomonee River, Sauk Creek, and the Pigeon River will be the first to return to more favorable fishing conditions.

Ozaukee County - Water in the Port Washington harbor and in Sauk Creek is murky after the area received heavy rainfalls early this week. Conditions should improve as weather stabilizes over the next several days. Brown trout and occasional steelhead have been caught in the harbor near the power plant discharge, and anglers have been using a variety of baits such as spawn, shiners, and crank baits.

Milwaukee County - Milwaukee area tributaries are high and muddy, but Oak Creek and the Menomonee River should be fishable in the next few days. Before the rains, anglers had reported good numbers of steelhead in both the Milwaukee and Menomonee Rivers. The Bender Park launch is open, and boaters have been catching fair numbers of browns off of the Oak Creek Power Plant.

Racine County - Decent numbers of steelhead have been reported in the Root River in the past couple of weeks. The Root River Steelhead Facility is now up and running and DNR crews will begin processing fish next week. The first steelhead spawning day will likely be Monday, March 28.

Ozaukee County - Water in the Port Washington harbor and in Sauk Creek is murky after the area received heavy rainfalls early this week. Conditions should improve as weather stabilizes over the next several days. Brown trout and occasional steelhead have been caught in the harbor

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South Central Region

Dodgeville DNR Service Center area

Iowa County - Sandhill cranes and Canada geese are pairing up. Red-wing blackbirds, meadowlarks, phoebe's, grackles have all returned. Woodcock are actively calling, and there are numerous tom turkeys gobbling in the mornings. Wood frogs, spring peepers and chorus frogs have been heard calling on warmer nights. Red maples are beginning to flower. - Travis Anderson, wildlife biologist, Dodgeville

Horicon DNR Service Center area

Glacial Habitat Restoration Areas - Dodge, Fond du Lac, and Columbia counties. Numerous diving ducks including ringnecks, scaup, redheads and buffleheads are being observed on the scattered wetlands of the GHRA. A trumpeter swan was also seen near Oakfield. Leopard frogs could be heard calling on some wetlands, in spite of Wednesday's high winds. -James Christopoulos, wildlife manager, Horicon

Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area - Parts of Horicon Marsh still have some ice but it is melting quickly. Large amounts of pintail, ring-necked ducks, mallards and shovelers have been seen along with smaller numbers of bufflehead, common mergansers, hooded mergansers, wood ducks and green-winged teal. Canada geese and sandhill cranes continue to host impressive numbers. Great-blue herons are returning to the Fourmile Island Rookery. Bluebird, meadowlark, killdeer, song sparrow and other migrants are starting to return in small numbers. 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. 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 - Ice is out on local lakes now and fishermen are starting to fish by boat again on the Wisconsin River. Snapping turtles are moving again after a brief warm up. Migrating birds are back in the area and starting to defend territory for nesting. Reminder that fishing and hunting licenses expire the end of the month. The new Go Wild system is up and running now so people can get their new licenses. Reminder as people are out doing yard work that burning permits are required now that there is no snow cover. Please follow the conditions of the permit. - Paul Nadolski, conservation warden, Portage

Dane County - Numerous reports of leopard frogs and salamanders active as well as some painted turtles with the warmer weather this past weekend. Continued bird migration into and out of the county. Wetlands are teeming with ducks right now of all species. Over the past week wood ducks seem to be moving into the area en masse. If they haven't done it already, now is a good time to clean and wood duck boxes for the year and get them ready for the 2016 nesting season. American woodcock are doing their sky dances and breeding displays across the county. Most DNR wildlife areas with a mix of grassland, wetland and shrubs are good places to look. Turkey vultures have increased across the county as well as eastern meadowlark, bluebirds, song sparrows and most of the blackbird species. Turkeys are still grouped up in winter flocks but they are displaying and showing breeding activity. Canada geese are staking out nesting territories and will likely commence nesting in the next week or so. - Andy Paulios, wildlife biologist, Fitchburg

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West Central Region

Baldwin DNR Service Center area

St. Croix County - There were chorus frogs calling in the New Richmond Area last night! - Harvey Halvorsen, wildlife supervisor, Baldwin

La Crosse DNR Service Center area

Pepin County - Staff report that all the ice is off of area waterways in Pepin and Buffalo counties. Some perch and walleyes are beginning to be caught around the dams as water temps continue to rise. Maple syrup production has come to a standstill this past week with warm temperatures. Many are enjoying the warm weather finding shed antlers and spring looks to be underway. - JJ Redemann, conservation warden, Durand

Vernon County - Just like clockwork, numerous bird species that are short-distance migrants recently arrived back in the area. Red-winged blackbirds, grackles, and robins have arrived in droves, while lesser numbers of killdeer, bluebirds, and eastern meadowlarks have filled in the gaps. Short-distance migrants respond more to weather clues, so they can gradually move northward as weather improves. Long-distance migrants depend on changes in day length to trigger their migration. It is believed that short-distance migrants can get a jump on resources and out-compete long-distance migrants that arrive later in a region. Meanwhile, area wetlands are alive with the spring mating calls of chorus frogs, spring peepers, and wood frogs have initiated their spring calling. Salamanders are emerging from their winter hibernation and will soon be breeding in all varieties of wetlands. There are 8 species of salamanders in Wisconsin, but these amphibians are seldom seen, as they tend to be secretive, typically are nocturnal, and are voiceless. Salamanders may often be found lurking in moist micro sites - beneath rocks, rotting logs, brush piles, and leaf litter. - Dave Matheys, wildlife biologist, Viroqua

Eau Claire DNR Service Center area

Hoffman Hills State Recreation Area - Trails are very muddy right now. If you walk the Wetland Trail though you can hear frogs starting to call including Spring Peepers. - Calvin Kunkel, ranger

Red Cedar State Trail - The trail is still soft from the spring thaw and some areas maybe be flooded for this weekend. Spring migration is in full swing with a variety of waterfowl using the river corridor. - Calvin Kunkel, ranger

Wisconsin Rapids DNR Service Center area

Buckhorn State Park - There is still ice on the bays of the lake, which is still in drawdown. Piers will be put out the end of April when the lake level is back up. There is a small amount of water in the canoe trail at this time. Fishing has been popular by the bridge and smaller boats are using launch D off 32nd St. Sandhill cranes have been seen and heard around the park. Tom turkeys have been seen displaying to hens already. Mark your calendar for the annual Work & Play Day. April 23 from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Call the park office at 608-565-2789 to sign up. - Heather Wolf, park manager



Last Revised: Thursday, March 17, 2016

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