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Wisconsin Outdoor Report and Calendar
December 7, 2017
The Wisconsin Outdoor Report is updated weekly by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Temperatures have finally fallen again, and light snowfall also dusted many areas and some, like the Brule River State Forest, got almost half a foot this week. Forest crews were able to roll the ski trails but skiers will still have a while to wait before trails are groomed and ready. Across most of the rest of the state, cross-country ski trails are open to hikers and bikers until there is enough snow for grooming.
Muzzleloader season wraped up this week and leads right into the statewide four-day antlerless only season from Dec. 7-10. This season provides an additional opportunity to fill an unused antlerless tag, but hunters must have a tag valid for the zone and land type they are hunting. All hunters must be wearing blaze orange this weekend. Archery remains open but even bow hunters can fill only antlerless tags during the four-day season.
Grouse hunters are still seeing birds and once in a while a grouse can be seen "budding" in Ironwood and Aspen trees. The last pheasant stockings for the season are done, but pheasants can still be found in the prairies for a little late season hunting. Large number of turkeys can be found in the mornings or evenings in open fields searching for food. Quite a few geese are still hanging around and will likely stay until snow covers their food sources. Turkey and bear hunters are reminded not to forget to submit their 2018 permit applications by the Dec. 10 deadline.
Beaver and muskrats are starting to prime-up and fur registration has been up in the last week or so, with some fisher and otter caught since the cold snap.
Sandhill cranes and trumpeter and tundra swans that were plentiful at Crex Meadows Wildlife Area during the mild weather were absent from the area this week. Winter birds such as rough-legged hawks, snow buntings, common redpolls, pine siskins, and tree sparrows have all been sighted around the state as they venture south from Canada. Migrating waterfowl, gulls, and loons are being seen in southeastern Wisconsin. Flocks of buffleheads have been seen along the shores of Lake Michigan bobbing in the waves. The Madison area lakes will likely remain open for a few weeks making them a hotspot for lingering waterfowl. Birders in Madison reported long-tailed ducks and scoters over the past week.
Results of recent population surveys on our state's bald eagles show the population is hitting record highs. Reports of snowy owl sightings remain strong, but please be respectful and keep your distance. If you are close enough to illicit a response from the bird, you are too close!
People interested in cutting a Christmas tree from northern forests can purchase a forest product permit to harvest trees from the Black River, Brule River, Flambeau River, Peshtigo River, Governor Knowles and Northern Highland-American Legion state forests. Please call ahead to verify office hours (phone numbers listed at bottom right on individual forest pages).
A three-minute audio version of this report can be heard by calling 608-266-2277.
Statewide Birding Report as of November 30, 2017
Snowy owls continue to take the state by storm, with over 100 individuals reported from 44 counties since October 20. Seeing one is a great thrill but remember to minimize stress on them by not approaching too closely. While the specific distance varies by situation, you are too close if the bird becomes alert, spends time watching you, and/or flushes from its perch. Learn more about finding and respectfully viewing snowy owls on the DNR website . The Lake Michigan shoreline offers a good chance to see one, as well as various duck species such as red-breasted and common mergansers, common goldeneyes, greater scaup, bufflehead, horned grebes, and long-tailed ducks. Look for winter gull species like glaucous, Iceland, and great black-backed among the more common herring and ring-billed gulls. Several rare birds were also found there this week, including harlequin ducks in Sheboygan and Milwaukee counties, purple sandpiper in Milwaukee, western grebes in Kewaunee and Ozaukee, possible black-legged kittiwake in Ozaukee, and the western "Audubon's" form of yellow-rumped warbler also in Ozaukee. Rarities found elsewhere in the state included a Eurasian wigeon in Vernon, summer tanager in Barron, and a late Ovenbird in Dane.
Feeder activity remains on the slow side, in part due to the mild weather and lack of snow cover. Perhaps most notable are flocks of pine siskins in the south. Common redpolls are widespread, especially across the north, but still focusing on natural foods and generally not visiting feeders yet. Red crossbills also continue in numbers well above average. Look for them in areas rich with conifer cones or gritting on roadsides. With cold weather on the way next week now would be a good time to prepare a heated water source and put out high fat foods like black oil sunflower, peanut chips, and suet. Find out what others are seeing and report your finds at www.ebird.org/wi. Good birding!- Brady, NHC conservation biologist, Ashland
Upcoming State Natural Area WorkdayBluff Creek: December 9, 9 am - noon Warm up your brush cutting arms and legs and start the brush cutting season here 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. No skills needed you will be trained onsite.
Blue River Sand Barrens: December 9, noon - 3 pm Join the new volunteer effort to care for Blue River Sand 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 turtles and understory plants. No skills needed you will be trained onsite.
Chiwaukee Prairie: December 16, 10 am - 1 pm 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 page of the DNR website for details. - Jared Urban, conservation biologist, Dane.
DNR Northern RegionSuperior DNR Service Center area
Brule River State Forest - The State Forest is white again after a 5-inch snowfall early in the week. Temperatures are also back to normal. Small amounts of snow are in the forecast, and the temperatures will keep the snow we have around for a while. The snow has cross-country skiers anxious to get out on the trails. The trails were rolled Wednesday, but are in poor condition with about 1 inch of base and 5 inches of snow in the woods. The wet spots are still freezing up and the rough spots need more snow to cover the bumps. Some sections of trails are closed where logging or hauling are occurring. As soon as the loggers or haulers move out of the area and conditions allow grooming of those sections, the trails will be re-opened. Trail conditions are kept up to date on skinnyski.com and norwiski.com. The antlerless deer season is underway from Dec. 7-10. One antlerless deer may be harvested per unused antlerless deer tag valid for use in specified zone, deer management unit (DMU) and land type. Only antlerless deer may be harvested with all weapon types during these four days. Archery/crossbow season resumes Dec. 11- Jan. 7. 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 fall is here but with it came the cold! There are currently 3 inches of snow in Mercer and many more just 5 miles north of here. Temperatures are in the teens, but people have already started getting their skis ready and clubs are ready to go. It seems as though hunters have put away their guns for the most part in Iron County with only a few people still out with their black powders. Grouse hunters who are still at it are still seeing birds. Nuisance beaver calls have slowed down and the local trapper who deals with issues has done very well this fall. Staff don't know if it is the growing population due to lack of trapping via low fur prices or the high water earlier this year, but many beavers moved into new territories where they were not wanted. Ice formation should increase this week allowing for ice fisherman to get out on the water--if they can withstand the cold. - Jenna Kosnicki, wildlife biologist, Mercer
Spooner DNR Service Center area
Crex Meadows State Wildlife - Birds are very scarce now in the Grantsburg Area. Last week's 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
Interstate Park - There is a small amount of snow in the park with a layer of ice underneath. Please use caution on the trails this time of year as snow and ice can create slippery conditions on trial surfaces. The Homestead Snowshoe Trail is open for use. There is not enough snow for cross-country skiing, so the Skyline Trail is still open for hiking. The Skyline Trail will be groomed for skiing once winter provides more snow. The trails that go into the bluffs are not maintained for winter use, please use caution if you decided to utilize those trails. Bald eagles and geese can be seen in the open waters of the St. Croix River. Coyote, red fox, deer, rabbit, and squirrel tracks have all been seen in the fresh snow. Turkeys have been seen foraging for food near the group camp. Gates to the north and south campgrounds are now closed. All campsites are still open for use, but anyone wishing to camp in the north or south campgrounds will need to hike in. For those campers not looking to hike, the group campground is plowed in winter. Water has been shut off for the season; however, water can found at the Ice Age Center, at the old office, or the hand pump in the group camp. The dump station is still closed until spring. - Matthew Densow, ranger
Straight Lake State Park - The forest floor is covered with snow. Deer, grouse, fisher, squirrel, and rabbit tracks have all been seen in the fresh snow. If you hike out along the Ice Age Trail along the Straight River, you may even find some otter tracks. Eagles can still be seen along the lake and river valley as well. There are a few inches of snow on the ground, but not enough for snowshoes. Please use caution on some of the steeper sections of trail or on any boardwalks on the Ice Age Trail due to possible slippery conditions with snow and ice. Both Rainbow and Straight Lakes are frozen over. Park staff do not monitor ice conditions. The campground is open. Campers will need to bring in their own water. All sites are first come first serve and must be paid for via self-registration. Campers can use any wood that is dead and down for firewood. The campground parking lot will not be plowed. Campers can access the campsites from the picnic area lot and follow the Straight Lake Trail. Park Stickers are required at Straight Lake. Stickers can be purchased at self-registration boxes located in the picnic area and 280th avenue lots. All wheel drive vehicles are suggested for visiting the park in winter. The picnic area and 280th avenue lots will be the only lots plowed in winter. - Matthew Densow, ranger
Park Falls DNR Service Center area
Flambeau River State Forest - Snow has fallen and we have accumulated about 1.5 inches. Dabbles of ice are flowing down the Flambeau River and the lakes have a thin layer of ice around some of the edges. Temperatures are dropping. Bears are denned up and the weasels and snowshoe hares have turned white. Forest staff had seen two adult and two juvenile swans on Connors Lake and also a snowy owl perched on the kiosk there. Pine siskins and a pileated woodpeckers have also been observed. It seems to be a good year for the winterberry crop so that will make for some very happy birds. Beaver and muskrats are starting to prime-up, which indicates that we will be having a normal winter. There are seven timber sales cutting on the forest. If these cold temperatures continue, the forest will have many active timber sales. Lake of the Pines and Little Falls Slough Gundy trails are snowshoe trails also. So get those snowshoes ready. Lake of the Pines Campground is open till Dec. 15. The weather forecast for the weekend, indicates that Friday has a slight chance of snow showers with a high of 22 and low of 9. Saturday will be partly sunny with a high of 17 and a low of 6. Sunday is forecasted to be partly sunny with a high of 29 and low of 19 with a chance of snow showers Sunday night. - Diane Stowell, forestry technician advanced and visitor services associate
Woodruff DNR Service Center area
Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest - Mother Nature flipped the temperature switch early this week on the state forest. Balmy and rainy turned to ice, snow and blustery overnight. The ground is dusted with a couple of inches of snow, making it great for studying animal and bird tracks. The snow does disguise the icy patches though, so explorers need to use caution and as always wear proper footwear. Redpolls, pine siskins, snow buntings, and if you are lucky, pine grosbeaks can be seen on the landscape as they venture south from Canada. Turkeys are bunched up and once in a while a grouse can be seen "budding" in Ironwood and Aspen trees. The creatures that have not settled down for a long winter's nap are busy trying to keep warm and find their next meal. - Rosalie Richter, visitor services associate
Marinette County - We had unseasonably warm weather including thunderstorms and pouring rain, then a cold snap hit Marinette County but right now there is no ice to speak of on area lakes. A few anglers are still on the Menominee River fishing for whitefish, walleye, and browns. Several snowy owls have been spotted hanging out just south of Marinette County. These birds are really neat to see but people should give them some space and not approach too closely. These owls have made a long trek to get here and approaching boats, cars, and people, add to their stress. Muzzleloader season wraps up this week and leads right into the statewide antlerless only season. This season provides an additional opportunity to fill an unused antlerless tag. All hunters must be wearing blaze orange this weekend. Be aware that even bow hunters can fill only antlerless tags during the four day season. Also note that hunters must have a tag valid for the zone and land type they are hunting: hunters heading to the northern forest portions of the county must have one of the few tags that were purchased back in August (or be a youth hunter with an unused junior antlerless tag). - Aaron McCullough, wildlife technician, Wausaukee
Governor Thompson State Park - The park had been covered in snow and then the rains came and we are back to brown. Now is a great time to hike the 16 miles of mowed trails and see what landscapes were hidden by the leaves. Visitors are seeing deer, snow buntings and turkeys. The park has two inland lakes, Woods and Huber, and several miles of frontage on Caldron Falls Flowage. South Bay is now frozen in for the season. Caldron Falls is still open water at this time. Ice conditions are not safe. The Family Campground is closed for the season. The boat access campsites on Caldron Falls Flowage are open year-round. The sites are accessible in the winter by hiking or snowmobile over the ice. The Woods Lake enclosed shelter is open to use as a warming shelter throughout the winter season. - Maggie Kailhofer, park manager
Green Bay DNR Service Center area
Manitowoc County - As the month of December is underway here in Manitowoc County we are between seasons. Open water can be found on all lakes. One can anticipate ice will slowly start to build with the cold snap that arrived on Tuesday. Time will tell but it will be awhile before ice fishing begins. Hunters are still taking to the woods for various seasons. A few pheasants can be found in the prairies for a little late season pheasant hunting. Deer hunters still have plenty of opportunities to harvest a deer in the upcoming month. Make sure you check the regulations to know what seasons are open this time of the year. A large number of turkeys can be found in the mornings or evenings in open fields searching for food. Even though it may be a cold weekend it is still a good time to get outside and take a hike in the woods. Get out and enjoy the great outdoors. - Alyssa R Neff-Miller, conservation warden, Mishicot
Sturgeon Bay DNR Service Center area
Whitefish Dunes State Park - December is a great month to watch the beach shoreline for ducks. This week there were lots of buffleheads and they are fun to watch bobbing in the waves. Visitors have reported seeing deer out on the trails more often this week. The bird feeder has been busy with downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers. An eagle was spotted in a tall pine tree along the shoreline this week. All trails are open to hiking. The recommended trails during hunting season are the beach shoreline (1.5 miles one way) and the Red Trail to Old Baldy (1.4 miles one way). - Jaclyn Moeri, visitor services associate
Wautoma DNR Service Center area
Waupaca County - Some skim ice, not enough to fish on therefore no fishing report. Given the recent warm weather and the conclusion of the gun season, deer have not been moving much. The much colder weather should change that for the upcoming antlerless hunt. Plenty of geese and wild turkeys around. - Karl Kramer, wildlife technician, Wautoma
Walleye fishing on the Wolf River is HOT. Anglers are reporting great catches on the lower portions of the Wolf River (south of Fremont). A jig and minnow have been working well. There is still plenty of time to deer hunt. Those that are getting out are reporting seeing a good number of deer near food sources. Trappers are reporting little competition and are catching prime fur. So, if you enjoy trapping, get out and enjoy the outdoors. There are thousands of mallards hitting the cornfields in southern Green Lake County. - Ted Dremel, conservation warden, Wautoma
Waushara County - The cold has come for sure in Waushara County. There may be some early ice opportunities by this weekend if the wind hasn't kept the water open. The water has been freezing on and off over the past couple of weeks so it shouldn't take much and with teens and single digit lows coming up the ice will be forming. This is a great time to remind folks that the ice is especially unpredictable this time of year. Many of Waushara County lakes have springs or some current to them which makes the ice thickness inconsistent. Remember your ice safety - always have a phone, a buddy, ice picks, and go slow while checking the ice depth in front of you. The cold also has the deer up and moving a little earlier despite the full and very bright moon. The antlerless season is going to be a cold one, but could be good if you still have some unfilled antlerless tags! Fur registration has been up in the last week or so as well. Fisher and otter have been caught since the cold snap. Good luck and as always enjoy what Waushara County has to offer. - Ben Mott, conservation warden, Wautoma
Oshkosh DNR Service Center area
Outagamie County - This weekend is the statewide antlerless hunt, which means that even bow hunters can only harvest antlerless deer. Even if you are traditionally not a person to shoot antlerless deer, this will be a great weekend to get out and hunt for the hungry. A list of processors that accept the deer can be found on the DNR website. Overall deer hunting pressure has been low in the Appleton area. There are still a few geese hanging around, but crews looking to do some late season goose hunting will need to put in the work to scout first. Lastly, a reminder, that a gun deer season is still going on, so anyone out hunting anything, besides waterfowl, need to be wearing 50 percent blaze orange above the waist. - Cara Kamke, conservation warden, Appleton
Milwaukee County - Get out for the December four-day antlerless hunt on Dec. 7-10. 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 website for updated deer harvest information across the state. With the warm winter weather, most of our waterways are free of ice. Migrating waterfowl, gulls, and loons are being seen around the county and on the lake. New reports of snowy owls have occurred in Wisconsin. 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
Plymouth DNR Service Center area
Theresa Marsh State Wildlife Area - The last pheasant stockings for the season were done last week on Theresa, Allenton and Jackson Marsh Wildlife Areas. At the Theresa Marsh dam the floating debris barrier and floating boat ramps have been raised out of the water in preparation for winter freeze over. They will be reinstalled in early spring after ice-out. Water levels at the Theresa Marsh main pool above the dam and in the open water areas along Hwy. 28 will be maintained at about their present levels during winter. A few muskrat trappers are trapping on the marsh. Many of the open water areas have started to freeze over, but ice conditions for walking are still very unsafe. The duck season in our area closed on Dec. 3, but a few goose hunters are still out taking advantage of the goose season which runs through Dec. 16 in the Horicon Zone (which includes Theresa Marsh) and until Dec. 21 in the southern Exterior Zone. Quite a few geese are still hanging around the area and will likely stay around until snow covers their food sources. Turkey and bear hunters are reminded not to forget to submit their 2018 permit applications by the Dec. 10 deadline. We are still accepting deer heads for CWD testing at the Pike Lake DNR office's self-service kiosk for the remainder of the deer seasons. The archery deer season runs through Jan. 31 in the metro subzone part of our area. - Tom Isaac, wildlife biologist, Hartford
Weekly Riverway Video Report
Horicon DNR Service Center area
Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area - Winter birds such as rough-legged hawks, snow buntings and tree sparrows have all been sighted in and around Horicon Marsh. Be on the lookout at your home feeders for pine siskin, redpoll and possibly crossbills in areas with an ample cone sources. The entire marsh, including areas on the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge that are typically closed, are now open for hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing as conditions permit. Canada geese and sandhill cranes are still around in decent numbers but not at peak. Keep your eyes open for snowy owls in large, open farm fields or on the marsh. Please be respectful and keep your distance. If you are close enough to illicit a response from the bird, you are too close. Be sure to visit the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center and Explorium. Located at N7725 Hwy. 28 in Horicon. With over 5 miles of trails to enjoy and amazing interactive displays to warm you up, it's a great excuse to get out and appreciate our natural resources in the colder months. Events and information can be found at www.horiconmarsh.org or by calling 920-387-7889. - Elizabeth Herzmann, natural resources educator
Fitchburg DNR Service Center area
Dane County - With the changing weather birders should keep an eye out for rare waterfowl, winter finches and snowy owls in the Dane County area. The Madison lakes will likely remain open for a few weeks making them a hotspot for lingering waterfowl and water birds. Birders in Madison are reporting long-tailed ducks and scoters on these lake over the past week. Winter finches in the area include pine siskins, common redpolls and a few scattered reports of red crossbills. With the cold temperatures bird feeders should start to become more active in backyards. With the colder weather approaching, deer and turkey movement should become more predictable as they enter a more consistent winter centered on thermal cover and high-energy food sources. There are still plenty of antlerless tags available for deer hunting in southern Wisconsin and good populations of deer for hunters looking to fill the freezer for the coming year. - Andy Paulios, wildlife biologist, Fitchburg
Vernon County - Now that the nine-day gun deer season is behind us, many Crawford County upland hunters have shifted their focus to wild turkey, raccoon, and rabbit hunting, all three species having strong numbers in the county. Wild turkeys are especially fond of acorns -- which still remain abundant in many woodlots -- and harvested corn fields. Success wild turkey hunters are incorporating these food sources into their hunting strategies. Raccoon hunters have been focusing on large woodlots, and many raccoon hunters use hounds in their pursuit. Rabbit hunters, with and without the assistance of hunting dogs, are concentrating their efforts along field, forest, and marsh edges, and brushy hedgerows, all ideal rabbit habitats. - Dave Matheys, wildlife biologist, Viroqua
Black River Falls DNR Service Center area
Black River State Forest - Temperatures are expected to be in the mid-20s this week with a chance of snow on Friday. If you would like to cut a Christmas tree from the Black River State Forest, Forest Product permits can be purchased at the Castle Mound campground office. Please call ahead to verify office hours. Cross-country ski trails are open to hikers and bikers until we get snow. Snowshoe trails are open to hiking. Snowshoers can enjoy the one mile and 0.6 mile trails at the Smrekar parking lot, the three mile trail that connects Pigeon Creek to Smrekar Road or the 1.5 mile loop around Castle Mound. Snowshoers are allowed anywhere on the state forest that is not a groomed trail. Winter ATV and UTV trails are closed. Trails will reopen on Dec 15, weather permitting. UTVs are allowed on winter ATV trails, except for designated snowmobile only trails or any other trail that was previously closed to UTV use. Jackson County Forestry and Parks maintains and grooms all of the state forest's snowmobile and winter ATV trails. Grooming updates are posted on the Jackson County website. Castle Mound and Pigeon Creek campgrounds are open on a first-come, first-serve basis. East Fork campground and Outdoor Group camp are closed and will reopen on April 15. Mark your calendars for Saturday, February 3. The Black River Forest Trail Foundation will be holding their annual Candlelight ski, hike and snowshoe event from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Smrekar warming shelter. Food and refreshments will be available as well as a raffle with great prizes. - Emily Alf, visitor services associate
Wisconsin Rapids DNR Service Center area
Adams County - Prospective hunters would have to purchase an Adams County central forest zone antlerless tag to hunt antlerless deer north of Hwy. 82 during the upcoming antlerless only hunt Dec. 7-10. As of Dec. 4, public land tags are gone, but there are more than 2,700 private land antlerless tags available. - Wade Romberg, conservation warden, Friendship
Buckhorn State Park - The group camp and gate are now closed for the season. Dec. 7-10 is antlerless only for bow and gun. You must have a Juneau County/Central Forest/Public antlerless tag or Junior Antlerless tag for public land. - Heather Wolf, park manager
Roche-A-Cri State Park - Dec. 7-10 is antlerless only for bow and gun. You must have an Adams County/Central Forest/Public antlerless tag or Junior Antlerless tag for public land. - Heather Wolf, park manager
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