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Outdoor Report

Published December 14, 2017 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).

Snow has finally stuck up north. With temperatures in the teens and low 20s it looks like it is here to stay. Several properties in the north are reporting between 6 and 10 inches, while the southern half of the state has seen primarily sporadic dustings up to a couple inches. While many ski trails still need additional snow and time to prepare, the Brule River, Northern Highland-American Legion and Point Beach state forests are grooming trails and making ready for the influx of skiers.

At this point only Iron County in far northern Wisconsin is reporting that snowmobile trails are open, on the Wisconsin Department of Tourism's Snow Conditions Report (exit DNR).

Ice conditions have not substantially improved. While there may be 10 inches of snow in Mercer, much of the ice on Iron County lakes varies between only1 and 4 inches. Those early ice anglers that are venturing out have reported solid catches for panfish and northern pike biting on Lake Poygan and those fishing Lake Chetac in Sawyer County are landing walleye, northern pike and panfish.

There are just a few weeks left to turkey hunt and now is a good time to see turkeys feeding in fields and wooded areas. Pheasant hunters should note that the state game farm will be releasing an additional 1,500 birds on five wildlife areas prior to the holidays for some late season hunting.

We aren't the only ones delighting in the recent white blanket. Tundra swans are blending into the background on their stopping points before over-wintering in the Chesapeake Bay. Least weasels and their larger cousins the long-tailed weasel and ermine have pretty well completed their annual autumn molt in which their pelage color changes from brown to all white. The white winter coat provides camouflage color to match the winter snowy surroundings usually encountered during this time of year. The diminutive, hotdog-sized least weasel is the world's smallest carnivore. Because of their small size and active lifestyle, these bundles of energy need to consume 40-60 percent of their own weight daily, which is equivalent to one or two mice per day.

Snowy owls are also still enjoying the camouflage and an estimated 173 have been tallied across 57 of Wisconsin's 72 counties. This represents the largest number by this date over at least the past eight years. The longest-running citizen science survey in the world, Audubon's 118th annual Christmas Bird Count takes place this year between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5 and offers a great opportunity to observe owls, hawks and other birds.

Keep your eyes peeled for tracks in the snow, whether you're looking to hunt/trap small game, or just see some local critters, as ambitious wildlife keep raking in those late season meals before waiting out the cold.

If you have buckthorn, honeysuckle, or other woody invasives you would like to control; now is a great time to do cut stump treatments. Search the DNR website, keyword "Invasive" to learn more.

And while we're still waiting more snow, this winter's candlelight event listing at state properties is now available. Many events offer skiing, snowshoeing and hiking, while some offer only skiing or snowshoeing and hiking. If there is not enough snow for skiing or snowshoeing many events will be held as hikes. For details, search the DNR website for keyword "candlelight."

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Statewide Birding Report

The longest-running citizen science survey in the world, Audubon's 118th annual Christmas Bird Count takes place this year between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. Each count is held on a single day in an established 15-mile wide diameter circle, and Wisconsin is home to more than 100 circles across most counties in the state. Volunteer birders of all ages and skill levels are needed to help with the counts, contributing sightings from field or feeder in effort to help monitor early winter bird populations. Find a count circle near you at http://wsobirds.org/christmas-bird-count.

Northern cardinal. - Photo Credit: Beverly Engstrom
Northern cardinal.
Photo Credit: Beverly Engstrom

This year's counters will be treated to high numbers of snowy owls as an estimated 173 have been tallied across 57 of Wisconsin's 72 counties. Harbors along the Great Lakes shorelines remain hotspots but many are widespread across interior grasslands, wetlands, agricultural fields, and even urban areas as well. Check some of these same areas for rough-legged hawks and short-eared owls. Feeder activity picked up a bit with recent snowfalls, including common redpolls across the north, pine siskins in the south, and American goldfinches statewide. A few pine grosbeaks can be found in the far north but evening grosbeaks have been especially scarce this year, with only two eBird reports over the last several months. Bohemian waxwings have also been scarce in the north, while cedar waxwings are being seen at berry-producing shrubs and trees across the south.

With many lakes freezing, especially up north, waterfowl numbers are generally on the decline. Lake Michigan nearshore waters continue to host a good variety of ducks, while remaining open water sources will be great places to see small concentrations of birds in the weeks ahead. Rarities spotted this week include Townsend's solitaire and a very late Ovenbird in Dane County, slaty-backed gull in Kenosha, Harris's sparrow in Dodge, harlequin duck in Milwaukee, and gray catbird in Marathon. Report your finds to www.ebird.org/wi. Good birding. - Ryan Brady, Bureau of Wildlife Management research scientist, Ashland

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Upcoming State Natural Area Workday

December 16, 10 a.m.-1 p.m., Chiwaukee Prairie - 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. Remove invasive brush threatening the prairie. Bring a bag lunch to eat afterwards. No skills needed you will be trained onsite.

Check the State Natural Areas Volunteer Program /topic/lands/naturalareas/volunteer.html page of the DNR website for details. - Jared Urban, conservation biologist, Dane

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Northern Region

Superior DNR Service Center area

The new snow offers a great opportunity to go out and search for animal tracks, like this bobcat print. - Photo Credit: DNR
The new snow offers a great opportunity to go out and search for animal tracks, like this bobcat print.
Photo Credit: DNR

Brule River State Forest - It looks like winter has arrived and is here to stay for a while. There are about six to eight inches of snow on the ground and the forecast says we are due for additional small snowfall amounts over the next week. The snow captures the activities of the animals living nearby and those that are just passing through. Their tracks and trails in the new snow tell an interesting story of their daily lives. Go outside and take a look! You might be surprised at who your neighbors are! With the snow we got over the past couple of days, the cross-country ski trails are being groomed. Conditions are fair to good. We have about a 2-inch base but there is still some grass sticking through the snow in some spots. Track has not been set yet—it may be possible to set track tomorrow. Trail conditions are kept up to date on skinnyski.com. 2018 Annual Vehicle Stickers and Trail Passes make great holiday gifts! Stickers and passes are available at the Brule DNR Headquarters Office. If you would like to cut a Christmas tree from the Brule River State Forest, permits can be obtained at the Brule DNR Headquarters. The cost for a permit is $5. - Diane Gobin, visitor services associate

Ashland DNR Service Center area

Iron County - Snow is here and it's not going anywhere! As of Dec. 13, there were 10 inches of snow on the ground in Mercer with even more in northern portions of Iron County. Good news for some, bad news for fisherman. Ice conditions have not improved since the inches of rain weeks back. Many of the southern Iron County lakes remain dangerous with 4 inches of ice in some locations and 1 inch of ice in others. Northern lakes are struggling worse due to the amount of snow and lack of extreme cold after the rain event. Be safe and bring a spud if going on the ice in Iron County. Snowmobiling is not recommended as one already went through the ice last weekend on the Gile Flowage. For better news, Iron County snowmobiling trails open tomorrow at 8 a.m. The MECCA ski trail located in Mercer has been rolled and will be combed by the weekend. In northern Iron County, the Montreal and Uller ski trail managers are still working to open these trails; Montreal is about 25 percent open. Once again, the rain event weeks ago has put a damper on things making it difficult to pack down trails. Snowy owls have made their presence in northern Iron County while a great gray owl was located in Ashland County. Tracking furbearers has been difficult with the constant snowfall and sporadic high winds. Snow is light and a top crust is not present making hunting enjoyable. - Jenna Kosnicki, wildlife biologist, Mercer

Hayward DNR Service Center area

Sawyer County - Ice on area lakes is variable. Some lakes have 5 inches in back bays and wind protected areas, while other parts on the same lake will have some open water or just an inch of ice. Use caution if heading out on area lakes and check every step with an ice pick for ice depth. Those fishing on safe ice are catching walleye, northern and panfish. Lake Chetac has been producing all three on the weed edges. Shiners and suckers on tip ups for the walleye and northern and the typical crappie minnow or wax worm for the panfish. With varied ice conditions this time of year it is hard to move around to locate active fish. Most are sitting near known fish producing spots and waiting for them to become active. Anglers are reminded that Lake Chetac has a 25 bag limit on panfish, which only ten can be bluegill and the walleye minimum size limit is 18 inches. There is plenty of snow cover in the area already which has bobcat hound hunters working on filling tags for those who were fortunate enough to draw one. With the bobcat split season, both trappers and hunters are reminded the first period ends on December 25th and the second period starts on December 26th and runs through January 31, 2018. The snow cover has also helped those with fisher tags locate tracks and relocate traps to active areas. The fisher season closes December 31th. Reports have been coming in of archery hunters seeing bucks already dropping antlers. Several reports of bucks missing antlers on at least one side have been heard already. The Tuscobia State Trail in Sawyer County will open for ATV/UTV use again on December 16th. The entire section of the trail in Sawyer County closes for ATV/UTV use from November 15th to December 15th annually. - Thomas Heisler Jr., conservation warden, Winter

Spooner DNR Service Center area

Crex Meadows State Wildlife - Birds are very scarce now in the Grantsburg area. Recent warm weather has allowed some Canada geese to hang around, but all of the other water birds have gone. Trumpeter and tundra swans were absent from the area this week, as well as the sandhill cranes. Highlights of the week were snowy owls and a short-eared owl. You can look for the snowy owls in a few different places, including the northern part of Phantom Lake Road and Main Dike Road on Crex Meadows, and near Dueholm Flowage on Fish Lake Wildlife Area. Snow buntings, common redpolls and rough legged hawks were present. - Lauren Finch, wildlife educator

Woodruff DNR Service Center area

Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest - The forest finally looks like a winter wonderland. With up to 8 inches of new snow on Wednesday, skiers and sledders will be happy. The new fallen snow will insulate the swamps and thin ice on some area lakes, and may deceive outdoor enthusiasts, so caution needs to be used when heading out into the great white north! - Rosalie Richter, visitor services associate

The 2017-18 ski season has started. We had been out earlier this week after the first light snow doing some packing and clearing of trees after the strong winds. We will be out packing the snow we are receiving today over the next couple of days. I will send out new reports on ski trail grooming as it is reported to me. You may also check on skinnyski.com as our groomers will be making firsthand reports to the site. We also have a phone line, 715-385-3355 Ext.121, which will have a recorded ski report. All McNaughton Trail loops were packed with the roller Dec. 13. Escanaba, Madeline and Raven trails were packed and cleared of down trees Dec. 14. There are no bare spots but still some thin areas under the conifers and some small wet spots - Tony Martinez, parks and recreation specialist

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Northeast Region

Peshtigo DNR Service Center area

Marinette County - Cold air has settled in and a couple of inches of dry fluffy snow is now covering the ground in Marinette County. A couple more inches of snow is expected to fall midweek, but snowmobile trails are not yet open. Ice now covers most lakes but extreme caution must be taken before venturing onto any ice. Bow season for deer is still ongoing as is small game hunting including squirrels, cottontail rabbit, snowshoe hare, and grouse. If you have buckthorn, honeysuckle, or other woody invasives you would like to control; now is a great time to do cut stump treatments. Be sure to only use a chemical that is labeled for use at your site and apply it according to the label. Search the WI DNR website, keyword 'Invasive' to learn more. - Aaron McCullough, wildlife technician, Wausaukee

Oconto County - It has snowed about three times now since last week and today we have received about 6 to 8 inches of snow. All trails are still closed. Some lakes have iced over but I don't trust the ice yet. I have seen individuals walking on the ice in Oconto Falls, but still don't think the ice is safe yet. - Paul Hartrick, conservation warden, Oconto Falls

Green Bay DNR Service Center area

Manitowoc County - Over the past two days Manitowoc County received a fresh snowfall along with the reset of the state. Snow amounts were higher closer to Lake Michigan, with the average falling 5 to 7 inches. With the fresh snowfall comes cross-country ski trail grooming at Point Beach State Forest. Workers will be out grooming trails today and some should open once groomed. You can call the park office at 920-794-7480 for the most current trail conditions. Snowmobile trails remain closed in Manitowoc County. To check trail conditions, you can visit the Manitowoc County Website or call 920-758-7669. Ice conditions remain weak throughout the county with open water still on most inland lakes. Ice should continue to form over the next week with the cold weather forecasted. Now is a great time to get outside and enjoy the fresh snowfall. Take a hike, ski on the trails, or look out your window. Enjoy the beauty and the great outdoors! - Alyssa Neff-Miller, conservation warden, Mishicot

Point Beach State Forest - The Lakeshore received 8 inches of snow on Wednesday. The Ridges Trail groomed for classic skiing was groomed early this morning and is in good condition. The Red Pine Trail groomed for both skate and classic skiing is being packed today and should be in good skiing condition by Friday. Expect good conditions through the weekend. - Guy Willman, property superintendent

Wautoma DNR Service Center area

Waupaca County - Just a skiff of snow right now, but that is changing today with anywhere from 2 to 6 inches of snow predicted for central Wisconsin. As a result of lack of snow, no trails currently open but that will likely change tomorrow. Antlerless deer hunt last weekend received very little pressure. From the reports I received, very little deer movement and very little success. Only lake where I have heard of any ice fishing going on is Lake Poygan - some reports of some northern pike biting. - Karl Kramer, wildlife technician, Wautoma

Now that most of our more popular firearm deer seasons are over, it is a great time to enjoy the state lands - for hiking, dog walking, bird watching. Get out and explore some of the beautiful public lands in the area. Ice anglers on some lakes have experienced great panfish catches recently. Just make sure you are on safe ice. Just a few weeks left to turkey hunt and now is a good time to see turkeys feeding in fields and wooded areas. Do your scouting of feeding and roosting areas and you should be successful. - Ted Dremel, conservation warden, Wautoma

Waushara County - The county has finally seen a little bit of snow. Not nearly enough to talk about snowmobiling, but enough for some good tracking snow if you venture into the deer woods. Some of the lakes are starting to freeze over, but still very thin and very dangerous. There are some anglers that are having success on the early ice, but still please be very careful if you venture out. This weekend looks like it is going to warm up just enough to be pretty comfortable out. The snow has made the woods look a little like winter and there isn't very much of it to prohibit folks from getting out and hiking around. Enjoy what Waushara has to offer before it gets too cold! - Ben Mott, conservation warden, Wautoma

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Southeast Region

Milwaukee DNR Service Center area

Milwaukee County - As of Dec.14, an estimated 173 have been tallied across 57 of Wisconsin's 72 counties. This represents the largest number by this date over at least the past eight years, owing in part to their early arrival this year. You can learn more about our snowy owl irruption by visiting dnr.wi.gov, keyword "snowy owl." There are antlerless deer bonus carcass tags available for purchase across the state, including in Milwaukee County, and now is the time to take advantage of our archery deer season, which runs through Jan. 31 within our metro subunits and Jan. 8 in the rest of the state. If you already harvested an antlerless deer, you can visit the DNR website to see where in the state additional antlerless carcass tags are available. You can also visit the department website for updated deer harvest information across the state. Join DNR staff on Saturday, Dec. 16 or Wednesday, Dec. 20 at Vernon Marsh Wildlife Area in Waukesha County to explore the winter wonders of our Wildlife Areas. Contact Dianne Robinson at Dianne.Robinson@wisconsin.gov (262-424-9827) for more details. - Dianne Robinson, wildlife biologist, Milwaukee

Kettle Moraine State Forest, Northern Unit - The forest received 2-4 inches of light fluffy snow Dec. 13-14. Greenbush and Zillmer ski trails will be rolled Dec. 14 to begin setting up a base for the season. With snow present, hikers and pets are now prohibited from the ski trails. A few ice fishermen have been out on Mauthe Lake. The DNR does not monitor ice conditions, and any visitor accessing the ice should proceed with caution. A reminder that trail passes are required for all skiers and fat-tire bike riders age 16 and over. The new 2018 park stickers & trail passes are on sale now, and valid immediately upon purchase. - Deb Harder, visitor services associate

Kettle Moraine State Forest, Lapham Peak Unit - Lapham Peak received a little more than an inch of fluffy snow overnight. It is not enough to groom. Snowmaking will resume Saturday night, with the hope of having a loop to ski on by next weekend. - Jay Abts, ranger

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South Central Region

No reports.

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West Central Region

Baldwin DNR Service Center area

Kinnickinnic State Park - All trails are currently open to foot travel. Surfaces are generally snow covered. Once cross-country ski track is set, ski trails will be closed to hiking and pets. The red, blue, and brown trails will continue to be open to all uses. They will be packed and are the only trails available for skate skiing. The single-track snowshoe trail on the park's south side is one of the most scenic and popular trails in the park. It is accessed off of 770th Avenue. All trails in the park are closed to fat tire and/or mountain biking. Snowshoes are available to rent through the Friends of Willow River and Kinnickinnic State parks. The park sledding hill is snow covered and ready for kids or adults alike. It is located near the pet friendly picnic area approximately a half of a mile past the park office.

La Crosse DNR Service Center area

Vernon County - Tundra swans continue to depart from Mississippi River pools adjacent to Vernon and Crawford counties. These birds are cold weather hardy, but increasing ice cover on the Mississippi River are pushing the birds out of the area. Most tundra swans that pass through Wisconsin eventually over-winter in the Chesapeake Bay area where they feed almost exclusively on clams. Least weasels have pretty well completed their annual autumn molt in which their pelage color changes from brown to all white. This diminutive, hotdog-sized weasel is the world's smallest carnivore and undergoes two molts each year. The autumn molt is usually completed by early December and is triggered by the photoperiod. The autumn molt begins on the animal's posterior and progresses toward the head. The white winter coat provides camouflage color to match the winter snowy surroundings usually encountered during this time of year. The long-tailed weasel and ermine, both larger cousins of the least weasel and found in Wisconsin, also turn white for winter but have black-tipped tails. Least weasels prey mainly upon mice and voles and kill them with a series of rapid bites to the neck and base of the skull. Because of their small size and active lifestyle, these bundles of energy need to consume 40-60 percent of their own weight daily, which is equivalent to one or two mice per day. Least weasels inhabit grassy fields, brushy areas, and marsh and woodland edges. - Dave Matheys, wildlife biologist, Viroqua

Black River Falls DNR Service Center area

Black River State Forest - The Black River Falls area received 1 to 2 inches of snow this week; not yet enough snow to snowshoe or pack for skiing. Temperatures are expected to be in the high 20s to low 30s this weekend. Winter ATV and UTV trails will open on Friday, Dec. 15. Snowmobile trails will remain closed until we receive more snow. There is also a 28 degree temperature restriction. If temperatures are not below 28 degrees the trails are considered closed. - Emily Alf, visitor services associate

Wisconsin Rapids DNR Service Center area

Buckhorn State Park - We've had a dusting of snow but not enough for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. When we have at least 6 inches of snow, trails will be groomed. Snowshoes will be available to check out at the park office. Mark your calendar for the 1st Day Hike from 1-3 p.m. on Jan. 1. Meet at the South shelter parking lot to hike or snowshoe. Hot chocolate and cookies after the hike. - Heather Wolf, park manager



Last Revised: Thursday, December 14, 2017

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