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ARCHIVED Weekly News Published December 22, 2015

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Eagle watching events get underway in January

Contact(s): Richard Staffen, 608-266-4340

Record eagle numbers boost viewing opportunities

MADISON -- Bald eagle watching events kick off in Wisconsin in January and run into March as Wisconsin's growing number of bald eagles - 2015 nest surveys recently revealed a record high population -- boost opportunities to see these majestic birds and spurs more communities to add or expand events.

"The increase in bald eagle populations are leading to more of these events and potentially better viewing, depending on conditions," says Rich Staffen, a Department of Natural Resources conservation biologist and raptor specialist.

Eagle watching events across Wisconsin celebrate record high numbers of eagles in the state.
Eagle watching events across Wisconsin celebrate record high numbers of eagles in the state.
Photo Credit: Steve Davis

The events provide more opportunities to learn about eagles and see them up close through live eagle shows, he says. Such activities also give attendees plenty to see and do if mild conditions mean that eagles are not concentrated in one spot but are spread out across the landscape.

The first in the parade of events is Bald Eagle Watching Days in Sauk Prairie, Jan. 15-16. (exit DNR).

Now in its 29th year, this event features a live eagle release, live raptor shows, guided bus tours and overlooks staffed by eagle experts, as well as indoor exhibits and activities.

That same weekend, Jan. 16 and 17, the Fox River Environmental Education Alliance and partners have expanded "A Day with Eagles Along the Fox River" (exit DNR) to two days with a mix of viewing opportunities, presentations about eagles and eagle monitoring, educational programming, and a falconry presentation.

Cassville rolls out its Bald Eagle Day on Jan. 23-24, (exit DNR) with raptor programs throughout the day and volunteers staffing spotting scopes in a park along the Mississippi River.

In February, the Prairie du Chien Bald Eagle Appreciation Days is set for Feb. 26-27], with new educational and environmental programs, live bald eagle and raptor programs, viewing through scopes, children's activities and more.

In March, Ferryville hosts its Bald Eagle Day March 5 (exit DNR) with a live eagle and raptor show, eagle presentations, a hooting contest and eagle art created by schoolchildren.

Resident and migrating eagles congregate looking for food

Bald eagles from northern Wisconsin, Canada, northern Michigan and Minnesota move south as the lakes and rivers they live along freeze over during cold winters. Seeking fish, a main food source, the raptors typically congregate along open water areas below dams when rivers largely freeze over, Staffen says. They can be observed along Wisconsin's major rivers, including the Wisconsin, Mississippi and Fox rivers, which offer the combination of open water near large blocks of forests with mature trees.

Like a lot of raptors, eagles have excellent vision and can see their prey - fish - under the water. The eagles roost in large trees at night.

The best time to look for eagles is in the morning.

"It's their active time for feeding. Late afternoon can be good as well as they are moving back to their roosting areas," Staffen says.

Eagle watchers will likely see adult and immature eagles congregating at the open water, and may see golden eagles as well, along the Mississippi River, Staffen says. Breeding golden eagles that migrate to the Great Lakes region are moving south from around Hudson Bay in northern Ontario and Quebec and western Canada, but the birds have been reported as regular winter residents in southwestern and central Wisconsin and neighboring states including Minnesota.

He cautions eagle watchers to take care not to disturb them. He encourages people to stay in their car unless they are at a staffed viewing site.

"Winter is a stressful time of the year for eagles because of the scarcity of food and the competition at open water sites with other eagles. They need to conserve energy to make it through the long winter."

Bald eagles the topic of Jan. 12 live online chat and Jan. 13 appearance on Wisconsin Public Radio

From the comfort of their own home, people can get their bald eagle questions answered by eagle experts on two occasions in January.

At noon on Jan. 12, 2016, DNR eagle biologists will be ready to answer your online questions during an hour-long chat. To join the chat on Jan. 12, go to DNR's website and click on the box on the right-hand side to enter the chat or join via DNR's Facebook page. If you can't join the session, review the transcript at the same link at your leisure.

At 11 a.m. Jan. 13, 2016, tune in to Wisconsin Public Radio's Larry Meiller Show (exit DNR) to hear DNR's Rich Staffen and John Keefe, president of the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council, talk about eagles and eagle watching events and field questions from callers.



More than 30 candlelight events scheduled this winter at Wisconsin state parks, forests and trails

Contact(s): Paul Holtan, office of communications, 608-267-7517 or 608-235-2126

More than 30 candlelight events will be held at DNR properties across the state this winter. Trails are lit with hundreds of candles, like this trail at the Flambeau River State Forest.
More than 30 candlelight events will be held at DNR properties across the state this winter. Trails are lit with hundreds of candles, like this trail at the Flambeau River State Forest.
Photo Credit: WDNR

EDITOR'S ADVISORY: This news release has been updated with the addition of a candlelight events Feb. 6 at Big Foot Beach, Brunet Island and Copper Falls state parks and Feb. 13 at Interstate Park.

MADISON - Mother Nature may be throwing a wrench into snow-based winter activities in Wisconsin, but most state park, forest, trail and recreation properties are adapting and planning to go ahead with the more than 30 candlelight events this winter even if there isn't snow for skiing or snowshoeing.

"Almost all of our properties are reporting that if there is not snow for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, they plan to hold the events as winter hikes," said Paul Holtan, communications specialist for the state parks program.

This winter's candlelight events kick off January 2 at Blue Mound State Park west of Madison and Mirror Lake State Park southeast of Lake Delton and run on weekends through February 20.

Skiing, snowshoeing and hiking by candlelight have become some of the most popular winter events at Department of Natural Resources properties, with some events attracting more than a thousand visitors. Last year about 2,000 people showed up at the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center for their candlelight event. This year the center has set up shuttle busses running from Mayville and Horicon between 4:30-9:30 p.m. and is encouraging visitors to use them as parking at the facility is limited.

Some properties offer skiing, snowshoeing and hiking, while others offer just skiing or just snowshoeing and hiking. Most events begin around sunset and run until 8:30 or 9 p.m.

Many of the events include additional activities such as bonfires, and hot chocolate and other refreshments may be available for sale. Some events offer grills for cooking food or roasting marshmallows. Some properties have warming shelters that are open for the events. Many of the events are organized by the friends groups of the parks, which provide much of the volunteer labor for the events.

People can check on the details of each event by going to the Department of Natural Resources website,, and searching keywords "get outdoors" and clicking on the "type" button and then checking only the "candlelight" box under listed activities. For more information on park or forest properties and locations, search for keywords "find a park." Regular park and trail fees apply for the events unless otherwise noted.

While most events will not be cancelled due to lack of snow, they still could be cancelled if conditions are icy, extremely cold or have severe wind chills, so people are encouraged to check the website and call properties directly to confirm the event will be held if threatening weather is in the forecast.

2016 Wisconsin State Park Winter Candlelight Events

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Friday, January 29, 2016

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Saturday, February 20, 2016



First Day Hikes to be held at nine Wisconsin State Park properties

Contact(s): Brigit Brown - 608-219-1295 or Paul Holtan, 608-267-7517 or 608-235-2126

EDITOR'S ADVISORY: This news release has been updated with the addition of a First Day Hike to be held at the Stowers Seven Lake Trail.

MADISON -- Anyone looking to start their New Year's resolution for better health can start the year off on the right foot by participating in any of 10 First Day Hikes that will be held at Wisconsin State Park properties on January 1.

On a First Day Hike, visitors can enjoy walks through diverse, beautiful natural areas, led by park rangers or volunteers. Most hikes include additional activities such as campfires, naturalist guides, wildlife tracking, and hot beverages after the hike.

Hikers gather for a group photo at a 2014 First Day Hike at the Pike Lake Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.
Hikers gather for a group photo at a 2014 First Day Hike at the Pike Lake Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.
Photo Credit: WDNR

All 50 states are participating in the fifth annual event that invites families and friends to celebrate the New Year amid the sights, sounds and wonder of our natural world with fun, guided hikes.

On Jan. 1, 2015, 507 participants hiked 1,191 miles at 10 different Wisconsin state park properties, up from the 190 participants who hiked a total of 605.7 miles in 2014. Nationwide, 41,000 people rang in the New Year with a First Day Hike at a state park, participating in more than 990 hikes throughout the country, according to the National Association of State Park Directors.

In Wisconsin, First Day Hikes will be held at the following properties:

For helpful cold weather hiking tips, visit the American Hiking Society's website at (both links exit DNR). For a complete listing of all State Park events, including First Day Hikes, search the DNR website,, for keywords "get outdoors."  For a listing of properties, search "find a park."

All participants are encouraged to log their First Day Hike adventures on social media with the hash tag "#firstdayhikes."



Volunteers help turtles safely cross to other side of the road

Contact(s): Andrew Badje, 608-266-3336

MADISON -- Thanks to volunteers' work in 2015, Wisconsin's endangered turtles and other wildlife will be a little safer next season as they cross roads to reach nesting areas and other important habitat.

Information submitted by volunteers involved in the Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program in 2015 has provided updates to Wisconsin maps showing the road crossings most deadly to turtles. Such reports help conservation and transportation officials better target where to pursue turtle conservation efforts. The map has been updated with 63 townships added in 2015.

Department of Natural Resources conservation biologists are sharing the 2015 information with state and local road officials. In past years, such information has helped spur projects to reduce turtle mortality in areas where there have been past problems, says Andrew Badje, a conservation biologist with the DNR Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation.

"We want volunteers to know we very much appreciate their efforts and that the information is being efficiently used to help conserve Wisconsin turtles," Badje says.

After consulting with local officials, a volunteer stenciled this turtle crossing sign on a roadway in Pell Lake.
After consulting with local officials, a volunteer stenciled this turtle crossing sign on a roadway in Pell Lake.
Photo Credit: Jennifer Tschida - Pell Lake

Volunteer submissions from past years' in addition to concerned citizens contacting their local officials resulted in safer crossings for turtles in 2015, and Badje expects the same will happen with this most recent information. For example, Waukesha County stenciled signs on roadways to alert motorists to slow down where volunteers reported turtle mortality to be a problem. And a road resurfacing project in Stevens Point, set to begin in 2016, will allow turtles to cross underneath the road through a combination of fences and a specially designed culvert. Supplementary research on this project will determine whether turtles and other wildlife utilize this culvert, or if it instead acts as a barrier to movement, Badje says.

Turtles are considered the most threatened of vertebrate species in the world; the International Union for Conservation of Nature 2011 Red List estimates that 45 percent of all turtle species in the world are threatened and 30 percent are endangered or critically endangered. Of the 11 turtle species in Wisconsin, one is endangered (Ornate box turtle), one is threatened (wood turtle), and three are "of Special Concern" (Blanding's Turtle, Smooth Softshell and False Map Turtle) because of low or declining populations.

Most turtles breed in the spring after they emerge from hibernation, or during August. All Wisconsin turtles lay their eggs in nests in uplands, and turtles getting killed by cars while trying to cross to nesting areas are considered one of the leading causes of declining turtle numbers in Wisconsin, along with loss of suitable habitat.

The loss of even one adult female turtle can have a large effect on future population numbers, especially in isolated populations or in species like the wood turtle that can take from 12 to 20 years to reach reproductive age, Badje says. In addition, research has shown that as reproductive females gain experience through age, they become more successful in hatching higher percentages of young. Actions that prioritize the conservation of older adults, especially females, are an important step in sustaining turtle populations throughout Wisconsin.

Volunteer efforts are helping make roads safer for turtles, like this adult snapping turtle in Green County.
Volunteer efforts are helping make roads safer for turtles, like this adult snapping turtle in Green County.
Photo Credit: Heather Kaarakka

Badje says that volunteer reports of deadly turtle crossings promotes further collaborations with the DNR and citizens, municipalities, universities, and road agencies to achieve a sustainable transportation system that proactively protects people, turtles, and other wildlife.

For more information, visit the Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program website Volunteers can also submit turtle sightings and road crossing reports through this website.


Read more: Previous Weekly News

Last Revised: Tuesday, December 22, 2015

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