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Outdoor Report

Published January 10, 2019 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).

Mother Nature is not being kind to winter sports enthusiasts with roughly the southern two-thirds of the state snow-free and only the far north having snow depths of 6-12 inches. A snowstorm Sunday into Monday dropped from 4 to 6 inches of snow in the north and northeast, but that was followed by rain across most of the state, with temperatures in the upper 30s in the north an approaching 50 in the south. A day later it was frigid single digit temperatures across the state.

The best snow conditons are found in far nothern Wisconsin, such as at the Brule River State Forest. - Photo credit: DNR
The best snow conditions are found in far northern Wisconsin, such as at the Brule River State Forest.Photo credit: DNR

There continue to be only a half-dozen far northern counties where snowmobile trails are open on the Wisconsin Department of Tourism's Snow Conditions Report (exit DNR). Cross-country ski trails conditions are good to fair in about a dozen northern counties. The weather is hindering Wisconsin's popular winter candlelight events. While more than 1,700 people turned out for the first candlelight event at Mirror Lake last weekend, the two events scheduled for this Saturday have been cancelled due to lack of snow or icy trails. Learn to snowshoe and ski events and a special event Fat Tire Bike Race at the New Fane Trail at Kettle Moraine North have also been cancelled.

Icy trails such as these at the New Fane trail in the Northern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest are leading to the cancellation of some events. - Photo credit: James Enigl
Icy trails such as these at the New Fane trail in the Northern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest are leading to the cancellation of some events.Photo credit: James Enigl

The warm temperatures early this week continued to deteriorate ice conditions. Lake Winnebago and the Upriver Lakes of Buttes des Morts, Winneconne and Poygan now have many large areas of open water. Only the smaller bays along Door County such as Little Sturgeon Bay had enough ice for anglers to get out. With the return of cold weather lakes have begun to freeze again, including Lake Mendota in Madison, but many waters have areas that are dangerously thin. An ATV went through on the ice on Lake Noquebay this week but the angler got out with help of local rescue.

Ice depths in the north continue to range from 6 to 12 inches. Anglers have been fishing for crappie, walleye and perch but northern pike have been the most consistent gamefish bite. In the south, water remains open along the Milwaukee Harbor and along Lake Michigan and at the Lakeshore State Park lagoon, and anglers continue to catch brown and rainbow trout.

Deer and turkey were observed feeding in corn fields after the rain. The deer season has now come to an end with archery season finishing on Jan 6. Small game season remains open for squirrels and rabbits but an emergency rule closed grouse season on Dec. 31. In the north, bobcat tracks are being commonly observed, otter slides appear to be everywhere, and snowshoe hare populations seem to be peaking.

The mild winter is also reduced the number of birds being seen both in the field and at feeders than in most years. The reduced snow cover is likely playing a big role in reducing energy demands, increasing access to natural foods, and spreading birds more widely across the landscape. On the up side, the mild conditions have allowed some species to linger longer than usual. Water-loving species spotted this week included belted kingfishers, Wilson's snipes, great blue herons, large numbers of Canada geese, tundra and trumpeter swans. Sandhill cranes continue in some southern counties. All the open water means bald eagles are also more spread across the landscape instead of concentrating near open water on rivers, but the good news is that there are more of them as they had another record-high nesting year.

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Statewide Birding Report

2018 is in the books - check out Wisconsin eBird's Year in Review  for a recap of another exciting year in Wisconsin birding. Unfortunately, 2019 is off to a decidedly slower start. Reports from the recently-completed Christmas Bird Counts and birdwatchers around the state generally indicate fewer birds being seen this winter both in the field and at feeders than in most years. It's difficult to know exactly why but this winter's mild weather and reduced snow cover likely play a big role in reducing energy demands, increasing access to natural foods, and spreading birds more widely across the landscape. Expect activity to pick up some if winter weather does truly arrive, especially following snowfall events. However, this season's anticipated flight of "winter finches" never really materialized here, instead remaining focused in the northeastern U.S. and Canada. As a result, redpolls have been largely absent statewide, while pine siskins are showing slightly better, although they are neither widespread nor abundant. Pine and evening grosbeaks can be found across the far north in only modest numbers as well. The Northwoods in general are very quiet even for typically common species like chickadees and nuthatches, perhaps due to reduced seed crops there.

Black-capped chickadee - Photo credit: Ryan Brady
Black-capped chickadeePhoto credit: Ryan Brady

On the up side, the mild conditions have allowed some species to linger longer than usual. For example, some water-loving species spotted this week included belted kingfishers, Wilson's snipes, great blue herons, large numbers of Canada geese, tundra and trumpeter swans, and greater white-fronted geese in several locations north to Barron County. Sandhill cranes continue in some southern counties as well and may end up overwintering if snow and cold don't settle in. An impressive list of sparrows were found this week, such as Harris's, white-crowned, white-throated, song, savannah, chipping, and American tree. Some brown-headed cowbirds, common grackles, and red-winged blackbirds were also seen, the latter all the way north to Lake Superior. Other interesting landbirds included red-headed woodpeckers, brown thrasher, ruby-crowned kinglet, yellow-rumped warblers north to Brown County, and a common yellowthroat in Manitowoc.

Bald eagles had another record-high nesting year. Those eagles and the Canadian migrants that join them here in winter will be more dispersed across the landscape this year thanks to more open around the state. Take advantage of some great opportunities to see wild and in-hand birds at the first of several Bald Eagle Watching Days event in Sauk Prairie on January 18-19. In other raptor news, 85 snowy owls were tallied statewide as of January 1 compared to 218 and 38 by the same date in 2018 and 2017, respectively. Great horned owls are very actively calling now, and a few calling northern saw-whet owls have also been reported. Check open fields and wetlands for short-eared owls at dusk, as well as tree cavities and larger nest boxes for eastern screech-owls. The week's rarest find was probably a varied thrush photographed in Waushara county. Find out what others are seeing and report your observations at www.ebird.org/wi. Good birding! - Ryan Brady, conservation biologist, Ashland

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Upcoming featured events at Wisconsin recreational properties

Mother Nature is not being kind to Wisconsin's popular winter candlelight events this year. While more than 1,700 people turned out for the first candlelight event of the winter at Mirror Lake last weekend, the two events scheduled for this Saturday have been cancelled due to lack of snow and rain and followed by freezing temperatures creating icy trails. The events at Lake Kegonsa and Wildcat Mountain have both been rescheduled to Feb. 9. Learn to snowshoe and ski events and a special event Fat Tire Bike Race at the New Fane Trail at Kettle Moraine North have also been cancelled due to lack of snow or icy conditions.

Events that are still taking place at this time include, winter hikes at Rib Mountain, Havenwoods and Mead Wildlife Area and a dog-powered winter sports program with Milwaukee Mushers at Richard Bong. As these events are weather dependent check the Get Outdoors events page or the Wisconsin DNR Twitter feed for cancellations or call properties directly for updates.
Click on the links below for highlighted programs this weekend or click on Get Outdoors," for a complete listing of events.
Saturday, January 12, 2019

For all events search Get Outdoors

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Upcoming State Natural Area Workday

Jan 11, 9 a.m.-noon: Ridgeway Pine Relict - Ridgeway is known for its scenic pine relicts that have northern plant species. Help care for this site by removing invasive plants and encouraging native plants at our second Friday workdays. Activities during winter focus on brush cutting, treating, and burning.

Jan 12, 9 a.m.-noon: Bluff Creek Workday: Cutting and burning brush - . Keep the brush cutting magic going during our monthly Southern Kettle Moraine SNA workdays on the second Saturday and enjoy the beauty of this wetland and oak opening area in the process. Buckthorn can spread and shade out uncommon plants at this site. Bring a bag lunch to eat together afterwards.

Jan 12, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.: Blue River Barrens State Natural Area - We are teaming up with The Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway (FLOW) to care for this site. Blue River Sands is known for its dry prairie (including cactus) and globally rare oak barrens. DNR crews have been working to clear brush and conduct burns. Volunteers will continue this effort by cutting and burning (if there is snow) brush. This will benefit understory plants.

Jan 15, 9 a.m.-noon: Westport Drumlin Workday - Help care for the Westport Drumlin Unit! Join State Natural Areas staff and volunteers and Groundswell Conservancy to restore this special remnant site. We will focus on a brushy area by burning piles and cutting and burning brush. This will be the first step in helping expand the prairie into this degraded area.

No skills needed you will be trained onsite. Check the State Natural Areas Volunteer Program page of the DNR website for details. - Jared Urban, conservation biologist, Dane. - Jared Urban, conservation biologist, Dane

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Northern Region

Superior DNR Service Center area

Brule River State Forest - Temperatures in the 30s over the weekend, followed by some rain, then frigid temperatures have put an icy crust on the snow, and on roads and sidewalks. There is no significant snow in the forecast, but there is still enough on the ground for lots of outdoor winter activities. The Afterhours ski trails were groomed this week and the trails are in good condition. Warmer temperatures on the way for this weekend will bring lots of skiers out to enjoy the weather and the trails. You can check the trail conditions on the DNR website and at http://skinnyski.com/. Two "Learn to Ski" events coming up at the Afterhours Ski Trail on Jan. 13 and Feb. 2. The events start at 12:30 p.m. at the ski trail trailhead. Free cross-country ski lessons for both children and adults in both the classic and skate styles will be offered. Ski rental equipment will be available until 3 p.m., but only for those who pre-register and are present to check out equipment at noon. The cost for rental skis, boots, and poles is $5 for youths 12 and younger and $15 for others. Pre-register by 7 p.m. Jan. 10 for Jan. 13, or by Jan. 31, for Feb. 2. Call Bob Cragin, 218-348-5200 or Phil Anderson, 715-372-5004 to register. For each person renting ski equipment, provide name, whether classic or skate-style equipment is desired, shoe size, whether the shoe size is a child or adult size, and sex, age, and approximate weight and height. Please also leave your name and telephone number. Snowmobile Trail information for local snowmobile trails is available for Douglas County at Douglascountywi.org or call 715-378-4528 and Bayfield County at Bayfieldcounty.org. - Diane Gobin, visitor services associate

Pattison State Park - Trails were groomed for classic cross-country skiing on Friday, Jan. 4 and were in great shape with full track depth. Some areas of debris because of the snow weighted branches. We have about 4-5 inches of base and 16 inches of snow in the woods. - Gervase Thompson, ranger

Ashland DNR Service Center area

Iron County - As temperature begins to drop and persist throughout the weekend, snowmobilers and skiers alike will get to enjoy fresh packed snow on trails; especially those in the northern portion of Iron County. Song birds have become scarce with a few flocks of pine siskin and the regular chickadees observed. Fishing has been moderate this winter. Ice remains around 6-8 inches in the southern portion of the county and 8-12 in the north. Lake Superior fishing has been slow, but no reports of fisherman leaving the big lake empty-handed. Bobcat tracks are commonly observed, otter slides appear to be everywhere, and snowshoe hare populations seem to be peaking. It's a great time of the year to get out and hunt and trap after a fresh snowfall! - Jenna Kosnicki, wildlife biologist, Mercer

Copper Falls State Park - Weekend weather deteriorated cross-country ski trail conditions to poor. Trails were last groomed for skate and classic cross-country skiing and on Friday, Jan. 4.

Turtle-Flambeau Scenic Waters Area - With the latest snowfall, all we had to do is wait for the temps to drop and we got out and groomed the MECCA trail system. Trails are groomed for skate and classic cross-country skiing and were tracked on Tuesday, Jan. 8. Conditions are very good to excellent, but the wind was howling while grooming so expect some drifting in the open areas. We will be re grooming before the weekend so get out and cut up the trail this week. - Brett Bockhop, parks and recreation specialist

Spooner DNR Service Center area

Crex Meadows State Wildlife - Weather has been a little bit up and down in the Grantsburg area. We had several days of near 40 degrees, but have now dropped back down to highs in the single digits. Bird activity is at a low point and will continue to be until late March. Flowages and lakes are completely iced over at this point, and we have had both snow and rain in the recent forecast. Rough-legged hawks are numerous in the area, as are black-capped chickadees, but have not seen signs of common redpolls in the area. The highlights of the week were a great horned owl and a golden eagle sighted, and saw-whet owls heard south of Grantsburg. - Lauren Finch, wildlife educator

Park Falls DNR Service Center area

Flambeau River State Forest - The Flambeau Hills cross-country ski trails have not been groomed but were packed (rolled/compacted) on Friday, Jan. 4, and are in fair condition. The Flambeau River water level is high and partially frozen. Some of the edges are still open. The lakes are ice covered with 12 inches or more of ice. Folks are placing their buckets and ice shanty's in strategic position. They have been fishing for walleye on Connors Lake and crappies on Lake of the Pine. Mason and Evergreen Lakes are being fished for crappie, walleye and perch. To learn more about ice safety, go to the DNR website and type in "ice safety." The weather forecast for the weekend calls for Friday to be partly sunny with a high of 29 and a low of 18. Saturday, cloudy with a high of 29 and a low of 17. Sunday, mostly cloudy with a high of 31 and a low of 19. - Diane Stowell, forestry technician advanced and visitor services associate

Woodruff DNR Service Center area

Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest - The Escanaba cross-country ski trails were groomed and tracked for classic skiing on Tuesday, Jan. 8 and are in good conditions with some thin spots under pines but no bare ground evident. There was 11 inches of snow on picnic table near research station. Snow depth variable in the woods. Madeline, McNaughton and Raven trails were groomed on Monday, Jan. 8. Madeline was groomed for classic. There are a few slush spots still but should freeze up with the colder temperatures. The trail is still in early season conditions and we need a bit more snow to cover a little debris on the Red Loop. Otherwise enjoy the first tracked groom of the year. McNaughton trails are groomed for skate and classic. The classic loops are in fair to good condition with thin spots and a fair amount of debris. Tracks are shallow and icy in areas. The skater's loop is in fair to good condition. There are a lot of thin icy spots around the lake. All Raven loops have been tracked for classic. Mostly full track set with thin shallow spots under the heavy conifers on the Red and Yellow loops. Overall good conditions. - Dan Jacoby, Tony Martinez, Beth Feind and Joe Kraetke, park and recreation specialists

Rhinelander DNR Service Center area

Fishing has slowed in the Rhinelander area with the recent unsettled weather. Fish are shifting to mid-winter patterns. Northern pike have been the most consistent gamefish bite. They are being found near the remaining green plants or in nearby mid-depth water of around 8-12 feet. Walleye are biting during low-light periods along weed edges and over beds of Nitella (sand grass). Despite the recent warm-up, ice thickness is around 10 to 15 inches on most lakes. However, areas with flow can be dangerously thin. There were several reports of trucks breaking through on pressure ridges in the last week. - John Kubisiak, fisheries supervisor, Rhinelander.

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Northeast Region

Northern Lake Michigan fisheries team report

Door County - On Little Sturgeon Bay, there was some ice forming near the point at Claflin County Park though most folks and shanties could be seen much farther out in Little Sturgeon Bay toward Squaw Island. Directly north open water was observed. Conditions are still risky. Open water made fishing conditions hazardous at Lime Kiln Road. Ice was forming near Sand Bay Resort with a fair amount of shove ice amongst it. A large amount of open water was seen past the bay. Ice has formed at Town Park Road but was not thick enough for traveling on. Five shanties were spotted farther out in Riley's Bay with 10 or so anglers. There was a fair amount of thicker ice at Riley Bay Road though precaution should be taken. There was ice in Woodlane Road but was not a good place for access of Little Sturgeon Bay. Much of it is shove ice. Carmody Park had 35-40 shanties observed and 40 or so folks were out for yellow perch and northern pike. There were some reports of good sized smelt as well. Most of the perch was fairly small and many were getting skunked on pike. Good luck was had using wax worms for perch and suckers for pike. Heavy snow at the start of the week made access difficult at Potawatomi State Park. Near daisy fields ice was present but wasn't very regular or even. A few shanties and folks could be spotted closer toward the west side of Sawyer harbor. Fishing surroundings are unsafe. Bayview Park had a small amount of open water that has remained throughout the week. Most of the open water begins directly under the old bridge. One to two shanties were placed very close to the docks of the Sturgeon Bay Yacht Club and SBU along with a handful of anglers. Mostly pike tip-ups were observed. The ice was smooth though heavy precaution should be taken. Some shanties were observed closer in Sawyer Harbor directly southwest of Cabots Point. There was a lot of open water observed farther out and heavy winds throughout the week at this point. There was mostly open water at the beginning of the week at James Murphy Park. Thicker amounts of shove ice came later as the environment stayed risky. Conditions at Pebble Beach were relatively the same compared to Murphy Park. Open water dominated the beginning of the week though later flat ice was observed, though thin and unsafe. Stone Quarry had a fair amount of smooth ice. The shove ice begins more north of the quarry. Conditions are still unsafe for fishing. Ice is visible for a good distance at Birmingham's though thin and hazardous. Conditions are about the same as the stone quarry. There is not too much shove ice at Sunset Park. Ice does not reach all the way across and appears risky. Level ice is forming at Memorial Drive though it is very thin. - Aeden White, fisheries technician, Sturgeon Bay

Peshtigo DNR Service Center area

Marinette County - Warm, spring like weather had the ground thawing on the surface over the weekend. Some landscape lilac even started showing green buds. Then northern portions of Marinette County saw 6-10 inches of snow Sunday night into Monday. Rain all day Monday reduced the snow cover to an average of about 4 inches. The remaining snow is now a mix of wet/sloppy and icy. Be very careful when snowmobiling on trails, some spots will be very slick. Lake Noquebay finally froze completely but some areas are very thin ice (under 3 inches) and are now likely covered in sloppy snow--BE VERY CAREFUL when travelling on frozen lakes. The deer season has now come to an end with archery season finishing on Jan 6. Small game season remains open for squirrels and rabbits but an emergency rule closed grouse season on Dec. 31. - Aaron McCullough, wildlife technician, Wausaukee

Snow turned to rain early this week in the Peshtigo Area turning everything to slush; minimal snow cover remains. There is lots of standing water and slush on local lakes; however, most of this will freeze up over the coming days. Ice conditions vary by lake; most anglers are walking out - an ATV went through on Noquebay but the angler got out with help of local rescue; there should be no vehicle traffic (i.e. full-sized trucks) on ice in Marinette County. Deer and turkey observed feeding in corn fields yesterday after the rain. Still a few ducks and geese being seen where there is open water, especially the Peshtigo and Oconto rivers. - Chip Long, fisheries biologist, Peshtigo

Wautoma DNR Service Center area

Waupaca County - Very little snow left in central Wisconsin. What is left is hard as cement. No trail activity at all. Most small lakes have fishable ice, beware on the larger lakes and rivers. After Monday's rain, streams are very high and would be tough to fish if not impossible. Not much wildlife activity to report, just a rough-legged hawk. - Karl Kramer, wildlife technician, Wautoma

Waushara County - Waushara County's slogan is For All Seasons - I don't think they meant that for all in one week, but that's where we are at. Temps in the 40s, then snow, sleet, rain, ice, cold, and wind all in 72 hours. The lakes have some decent ice, the edges are the spots you need to watch with all the water running off - treat it more like late ice and be cautious. After a few days of cold though the decent winter temps are supposed to return for this weekend. Fishing has been spotty but most don't mind with nice weather they are just getting out and enjoying what Mother Nature has to offer.- Ben Mott, conservation warden, Wautoma

Oshkosh DNR Service Center area

Lake Winnebago System

Mid weather, rain and wind have caused ice conditions on Lake Winnebago and the Upriver Lakes of Buttes des Morts, Winneconne and Poygan to deteriorate. Currently, there are many large areas of open water along with large complexes of working cracks on the existing ice sheets. Anglers have been fishing in bays and backwater areas, but the main basin of the lakes should be avoided for the time being. Any angler going out on the ice should exercise caution and be diligent about checking ice conditions where they plan to travel. Hopefully, colder weather will come our way to stabilize ice conditions before the start of the 2019 lake sturgeon spearing season on Feb. 9 for a safe and successful season. The 2019 Winnebago System sturgeon spearing regulation pamphlet is available now on the DNR webpage  - Ryan Koenigs, fisheries biologist, Oshkosh

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Southeast Region

Milwaukee DNR Service Center area

Lakeshore State Park - The water remains open at Lakeshore State Park within the lagoon, along the Milwaukee Harbor and along Lake Michigan. There is a thin layer of ice beginning to build in the southern portion of the lagoon, but it does not extend to the shore and is not able to be used for ice fishing yet. Brown and rainbow trout are the majority of fish being caught at this time. The lagoon has quite a few greater and lesser scaups, golden eyes and red-breasted mergansers swimming around. A couple long-tailed ducks and an American kestrel were recently sighted as well. The snowy owl has not returned yet this year. - Angela Vickio, naturalist, Milwaukee

Waukesha DNR Service Center area

Kettle Moraine State Forest - Lapham Peak Unit - The man-made snow ski loop was tilled and groomed for skate cross-country skiing on Wed., Jan. 9. The track was set. The trail will be groomed again after the Wednesday Nite Ski races. Snowmaking has resumed to help build up thin areas and complete the loop through the woods. Lights are on until 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Plymouth DNR Service Center area

Kettle Moraine State Forest, Northern Unit - Things are quite icy here at Northern Unit this week. Although most of the snow has left us, there are patches of ice still left on the trails that were heavily used. People looking for good walking opportunities should check out Mauthe Lake's campground. The 200s loop road was plowed making a mostly ice-free path with lakeside views that is popular for folks desiring a level surface. It is recommended that anyone hiking this weekend bring along some sort of traction device for your footwear. The cross-country ski trails are ice covered and remain closed to hikers. The bike trails still have some ice where the snow packed down, so plan accordingly. The special event Fat Tire Bike Race that had been scheduled this Saturday at New Fane has been postponed until better conditions exist in the next few weeks. The Ice Age Visitor Center will be open only on Saturday this weekend, please call ahead for hours. - James Enigl, ranger

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South Central Region

No reports.

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West Central Region

Eau Claire DNR Service Center area

Lake Wissota State Park - Warm weather and recent rain has left the park with slippery conditions. Our trails are either bare ground or ice covered. Ice cleats are strongly recommended to prevent slips and falls. The warm weather has not stopped ice fishermen from getting out. Some of the ice melted during the warm-up and left water on top of the ice but a good base still remains in most areas. Cooler weather is in the forecast so the water on top of the ice should freeze up quickly leaving a good ice skating surface but difficult walking conditions. - Nathan Fries, ranger

Wisconsin Rapids DNR Service Center area

Buckhorn State Park - Snow has melted off trails again with the warmer weather and rain. Trails will be groomed when we get at least 6 inches of snow. Snowshoes will be available to use in the park when we have more snow. People have been accessing the lake from launch A and launch C. Park staff do not monitor ice conditions. January 10 applications for the accessible cabin can be postmarked or faxed to the park office. - Heather Wolf, park manager



Last Revised: Thursday, January 10, 2019

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