Well, we're headed up to the kids' cabin on Turtle Lake in Barnes, WI, this weekend. It will be a short stay... only two days. But Kathy and I are really looking forward to seeing the kids - son Jon, daughter-in-law Sara, and grandsons, Jackson and Bryson. We haven't seen them since Thanksgiving, so it will be nice to catch up on things, go for a hike and grill some brats. I might even try ice fishing again. Well, not really. I just get too cold out there and I don't have my ice shack anymore. However, you can bet you best auger that Jon, the boys and I will be out testing the ice. The last time - Labor Day weekend - we went up to Jon's and Sara's cabin, I suffered a stroke and was hospitalized for 20 days. Thanks to God, great doctors, nurses, family and friends, I'm back to normal. Meanwhile, anglers are frequenting their favorite ice fishing haunts from sun-up to sundown and beyond. The expected warm-up the next few days will probably bring out even more anglers as they try to find... and catch their favorite fish species. Look for wildlife to become more active, too. Until we meet, have a great day outdoors.
From Southern Wisconsin
We cannot talk to bald eagles. No one claims to be an eagle whisperer, either. But now that mated pairs of the U.S. National Emblem are going about the business all wild things do in preparation for reproduction and repopulating, they rarely hide what has and is transpiring. Two-ton, perennial nests seem to look larger than they did in late fall, and they are. The pair has added sticks, branches and bedding for February’s egg laying. We’ll know exactly when the first of up to three eggs has been dropped because a bird is sitting low in the nest, with only its softball-like, white head showing. This incubating bird never leaves the nest unless the mate is there to take over the duty of being the blanket and keeping the eggs from freezing. Hatching, too, is chronicled by those incubating birds standing to feed the first chick that hatched, but not standing for long because there may be more eggs to hatch and brood. The ball of yellow fluff that just hatched is necessary, too. Preceding and during some of these events, mating occurs, often atop the nest, in nearby trees, on limbs seeming to be too frail to hold one eagle, let alone one perched on the other. To us, the only difference between male and female adults is a subtle size, with the female always the winner. Nearly anything functions as food, with male and female sharing the shopping duties for carrion, fresh squirrel, duck, rabbit, muskrat and a few large birds fattened at our feeders. Meanwhile, suet is not only woodpecker food, in case one hasn’t noticed. Blue jays, cardinals, nuthatches, chickadees and even a junco on the ground feeds readily on meat and fat left on bones and commercial suet cakes. Try a few cakes, usually costing less than a dollar, to begin bringing in rafts of birds without the feeding and feeder cost and most of the mess. Pork chop bones, prime rib racks and turkey carcasses are all the same to a feeder bird. Few hunters have a ruffed grouse carcass to hang, but an enlightening grouse hunting book by Mark Parman, of Seeley, WI, his second such work, can be pre-ordered for April delivery. Those of us who regularly returned empty from last autumn’s hunts, would have been agape listening to Mark’s excitement last week telling of having a covey of grouse erupt from northern Wisconsin snow, one at a time from their warm roost, while he stood in amazement. He had a good season in new habitat, hunting regularly. The University of Wisconsin Press will release this book during spring drumming season. Another bird will grab our attention soon after we receive our turkey permits this week. Quaker Boy, Inc., a game call company in Orchard Park, NY, is bringing back Dick Kirby’s original Grand Old Master box call, and at a reasonable price of about $20. Dick’s son, Chris, said of the call our fathers and mothers probably used: “Sometimes things done the first time are best. It’s easy to use, is super, super consistent with a combination of a poplar wood box and a cherry lid. It stood the test of time.” Trout anglers have had limited success, except for a few who know the streams really well and fish in areas where they have always found fish, spring and fall, even though it’s winter. Extremely warm spells have put some fear, and wetness, into some ice anglers, so stay away from spring areas in ponds and lakes. A few signs of spring are beginning to appear, including early flowering skunk cabbage and bobcats looking for new territories. One adult treed a house cat here in eastern Iowa County last weekend. Be observant. Read the clues and signs nature is beginning to provide.
Schafer's River Rentals
The big swings in the weather are making it really difficult to give an accurate fishing report. With the warm-up that is forecast, I expect the fish patterns to change from what they are now with the cold weather. The bite did slow down with the temps dropping, but not as much as I expected. I think a lot of fishermen who got frustrated were just not able to adjust to the new patterns. With the 6 inches of snow we just got, that will lower the light under the ice significantly. That may bring the crappies off the bottom during the day. The crappie bite has improved significantly in the last few days, I have gotten multiple reports of guys catching keepers during the day. Your best bet is still early and late. Over by the airport lights, the northern and bass continue to hit well, but the perch bite has been sporadic with more days last week being a bust than good. That bite really varies day to day, so if you are after jumbo perch, your best bet is to go check by the lights and move on if you’re not seeing any activity. Surprisingly, there has been a good bluegill bite when the perch are not moving through. I expect all fishing to improve with the weather this week.
Karen Perry from Wild Birds Unlimited
Just like bluebirds, blue jays have no blue pigments in their feathers. Instead, each feather barb has a thin layer of cells that absorb all wavelengths of color except blue. Only the blue wavelength is reflected and scattered, resulting in their blue appearance to our eyes. Blue jays are often chastised for their known practice of eating eggs and nestlings of other birds. But extensive research has proven this to be a very rare occurrence, with only 1% of the study population showing any evidence of this behavior. The blue jay is a talented mimic. Its version of a red-shoulder hawk’s call can fool even the most experienced birders. We have had many hawk visits in our yard this winter and let me tell you when I hear the blue jays mimic – the birds in the yard literally fly like the wind into cover. Low and behold there is a hawk hanging out shopping for lunch! Peanuts in the shell are a favorite among blue jays. Watch your feeder to see if you can observe them shaking peanuts to tell if the shell is full or empty. Wild Birds Unlimited has some “whole” peanut feeders. It’s fun to watch a blue jay fly to the feeder hardly land on it and off it goes with a whole peanut! Blue jays will bury seeds up to 2½ miles from their original source which is a record for any bird. This behavior has greatly helped with the range expansion of many oak species. A blue jay was observed packing over 100 sunflower seeds into its gullet during just one visit to a feeder. Blue jays will cache seeds and nuts to retrieve later, and make repeated trips to feeders to gather food and hide it in a safe spot.Blue jays have been known to live over 17 years! I am a blue jay fan. We had more than one pair nest in our yard this year that fledged babies. It was “NOISY,” but fun to watch. Don’t be hard on blue jays as they are enjoyable to watch, and even if they scare your other birds from the feeders, they don’t hang out long and the other birds return quickly. Sometimes we have to love all the species to enjoy a few! They love black oil sunflower, suet nuggets (WBU Bark Butter Suet nuggets specifically), peanuts in and out of the shell, tree nuts and cracked corn. Stop in and see us at Wild Birds Unlimited, 9348 State Hwy 16, Suite 14, Onalaska, WI 54650, 608-781-5088. Happy Birding! Karen Perry
VERNON COUNTY - Mid-January generally announces the onset of coyote and red fox breeding cycles. These two members of the dog family have one annual estrus cycle and typically breed between January and March. Foxes and coyotes are more likely to travel in pairs now, and the fresh snow and increased activity means they are more visible than at any other time of the year. Cold, crisp winter nights afford opportunities to listen for the raspy barks of red fox or the high-pitched yipping of coyotes. Pup litters of both species are born in March or April in a natal den or burrow, but red foxes generally avoid raising pups in areas where coyotes have established territories, said Dave Matheys, wildlife biologist, Viroqua.
PERROT STATE PARK - We received about 5 inches of snow on Jan. 14 and 15. The cross-country ski trails were packed and tracked, but are in fair condition. The snow was very light and the track is still soft due to cold temperatures. The wind has blown the snow around and some sections of the trail may have very little. The skate lane in the campground has been packed, but it is soft. Hiking and snowshoeing are not allowed on cross-country ski trails. Brady's Bluff, Black Walnut Nature Trail and the Riverview trail are available for hiking and snowshoeing. If you would like to rent snowshoes, please contact the park office to make arrangements. Pets are not allowed on cross-country ski trails, said Lois Larson, park manager.
EAU CLAIRE COUNTY - With all the recent snowfall in Eau Claire County, it is important to check trail conditions before going out. As of Jan. 16, all Eau Claire County snowmobile trails are closed. Information can be found at www.eccosnow.org. When/if the trails open this season, snowmobilers need to remember to get their trail passes and current registration before hitting the trails. Always make sure to dress appropriately and plan your ride. Free fishing weekend is coming and there are many places to take advantage. Large crappies have been caught on Lake Altoona so far this year. Ice is never 100 percent safe, but with the recent cold weather there is also a lot of ice on the lakes. When on the ice, stay away from naturally occurring springs and places where the current is strong. Those places have less ice and are more unpredictable, said Jacob Bolks, conservation warden, Eau Claire.
BUCKHORN STATE PARK - The trail into the new campground is open for dog walking and is packed when there is enough snow. Camp hosts are still needed for summer. We have spots open May-July for one site and May-July for the second site, said Heather Wolf, park manager.
ROCHE-A-CRI STATE PARK - Parking is in the winter/prairie lot on Czech Ave and park stickers are required (self-registration box at parking lot). The stairway is not maintained in winter and can be icy, said Wolf.
Wisconsin Birding Report
As of Jan. 16, an estimated 240 snowy owls have been found in 65 of Wisconsin's 72 counties since the first arrived on Oct. 20. The only counties lacking reports include Buffalo, Florence, Forest, Lafayette, Menominee, Walworth, and Waupaca. Have you seen an owl in one of these counties, or elsewhere, this year? Please take a few minutes to report your sighting at www.ebird.org/wi. This year's total is much higher than that found the past two winters, but on par with totals from the winters of 2013-14 and 2014-15. While most open areas are hosting some, hotspots include agricultural areas of Columbia County, Buena Vista Wildlife Area, the highway 29 corridor from central to western Wisconsin, the Fox Valley from Green Bay through Freedom to Appleton, the Ashland area, and various fields and lakeshore points along Lake Michigan. Project SNOWstorm is now tracking two tagged owls in Wisconsin, and be sure to check out this recent podcast on all things snowy owl featuring DNR Bird Monitoring Coordinator, Ryan Brady. - Ryan Brady, NHC conservation biologist, Ashland Lastly, 2018 has been declared "The Year of the Bird", an international celebration of 100 years of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Read about why birds matter, learn small actions that can make a big difference, and take the pledge to help conserve our feathered friends at www.birdyourworld.org. Good birding.
SOURCE: Ryan Brady, NHC conservation biologist in Ashland
Around the Badger State
Snow fell on much of the state this week, with heavy amounts in the north and northeast. The Door County Peninsula and nearby areas were blanketed with almost a foot of powder. Central and southern Wisconsin received considerably less and with temperatures in the high 30s and low 40s forecast toward the end of this week, much of that snow could be gone fast. Counties across roughly the northern quarter of the state have snowmobile trails open and in good to excellent condition on the Wisconsin Department of Tourism's Snow Conditions Report. Cross-country ski trails are being groomed in about the northern half of the state and range from fair to very good. With nearly a foot of new snow early this week there is roughly 20 inches of snow on the ground at the Brule River State Forest. Ice depths on northern lakes continue to range from 16 to 20 inches. Anglers on Sawyer County lakes have seen some panfish action on minnows and wax worms. Anglers in the Park Falls area were catching crappies and walleyes. Last weekend at a fishing tournament in northeastern Wisconsin walleyes, bluegill, bass and northern were being caught. Large crappies have been caught on Lake Altoona in Eau Claire. There have been some good catches of panfish and walleye on the Wolf River. Fishermen are still pulling up brown trout and panfish through the ice at Lakeshore State Park in Milwaukee. Coyote and fox activity seems to have increased recently. Mid-January is generally the onset of coyote and red fox breeding cycles. Foxes and coyotes are more likely to travel in pairs now, and the fresh snow and increased activity means they are more visible then at any other time of the year. Cold, crisp winter nights afford opportunities to listen for the raspy barks of red fox or the high-pitched yipping of coyotes. Pup litters of both species are born in March or April. Great horned owls begin hooting and claiming territories this month. Open water along the Lake Michigan shoreline and the Milwaukee Harbor was attracting thousands of scaup and goldeneyes, along with a few common and red-breasted mergansers. Warmer temperatures in the forecast will make this weekend seem like an excellent one to get outdoors. There are a lot of activities this weekend. Jan. 20-21 is the Winter Free Fishing Weekend. Bring your family and friends and enjoy a weekend of free fishing. Ice fishing clinics are being held at Kettle Moraine State Forest North Unit, Richard Bong State Recreation area and Straight Lake and Devil's Lake state parks on Saturday. Search the DNR website for "Free Fishing" for other events. Devil's Lake is also holding a Family Snow Day Saturday and snowshoe hikes are being held at Mirror Lake, Crex Meadows and Pike Lake Saturday and at Kinnickinnic on Sunday. Lapham Peak will be hosting the Lapham Loppet cross-country ski races Saturday. It's also the first big weekend for candlelight events with Copper Culture, Governor Dodge, Horicon Marsh and Kettle Moraine South all holding events Saturday night. For all details and a complete list of activities search the DNR website for "Get Outdoors."
Billy Isbell from Island Outdoors on French Island
It's Billy from Island outdoors. This week's reports have been great. I would say bass and northern are best on tip-ups on Lake Onalaska. Panfish are doing well if your into the search and destroy mission. They don't seem to be sitting still. Waxies and spikes are your best bet. Perch have been roaming around so they are findable. Walleye have been found on the current seams around Dresbach using jigging raps and and walleye minnows. Fishing has been great. If you spend enough time out there, I guarantee a good time. We are also gearing up for the Atomic Derby which is Jan. 27. You can fish Pools 7 and 8. Check us out online at atomicicederby.com.