Old Man Winter is expected to finally loosen his grip by this weekend. Snow is melting, rivers are rising and everyone is itching to get outdoors to do "spring things," rather than gripping a shovel, or firing up the snowblower... again. Wildlife is just as anxious to get into their normal spring routines. However, a white blanket continues to cover most of the Coulee Region, especially after Wednesday's snowstorm. Birds appear confused, fluttering above and below bird feeders, that require almost constant filling. There's one robin that sits in the miniature crabapple tree in our front yard. It chases other robins trying to get to the leftover fruit. Talk about being "territorial." It's the same tree that deer have turned to at night ever since last weekend's storm dumped more than 7 inches of snow in the La Crosse area. The deer are also eating buds from the soft maples in other yards around our condo in the valley. I did see two meadowlarks on our lawn during the snowstorm. It's the first meadowlarks I have seen in our yard since we moved here in 2014. Fishing has slowed, basically from unseasonably cold temperatures for this time of the year. However, it's expected to warm up on Friday and continue into the upper 50s and 60s into much of next week. We'll see. Until we meet, have a great day outdoors.
From Southern Wisconsin
A late spring has its advantages for wildlife, including deer, rabbits, bobcats, most hen birds, foxes and coyotes. Those few species that change coats with the weather, like weasels, deer and hares are nearly invisible now. A rabbit at dawn blends in after it has nibbled tulip leaves. Deer are shedding winter coats and can again blend invisible in many drab habitats. The closer we are, the more difficult to pick them from the twigs, brush and few remaining leaves of last summer. Squirrels, coyotes and gray fox become part of the habitat unless they move. A rooster pheasant awakens our eyes, but the hen standing next to him is nowhere to be seen. Spring, real spring, changes all that, and critters will have to be more careful, be more crepuscular, creeping more at dawn and dusk. The almost-never-seen mole has “come alive” and is tunneling in all the wrong places, across lawns, through gardens and across perennial beds. Now they move predominantly in straight lines to get to food and this becomes a perfect time to trap them with a scissors trap. No digging, no bait, just step the trap into the tunnel area and check daily. Flag the location for easy retrieval and avoidance. Turkey vultures are telling everyone where death has occurred, finding carrion by sight and smell. Kettles of birds seem to circle before landing to feed. At dawn they committee up and spread to dry their wing feathers. Bird watchers call numerous birds feeding on the same roadkill a wake. That group name makes more sense than kettle and committee as the vultures gather to pay the dead critter condolences. Moving the youth and regular turkey seasons a week later seems to have backfired weather-wise this year, but then there are seven days in every period, beginning Wednesday, April 18. Hunters carrying out a heavy load can get right on a phone to register and follow getting a confirmation number by purchasing another harvest authorization, permits of old. Forgot one of the many locator calls (shock-gobble initiators)? Want those gobblers to sound off in the woods? listen to their reactions to pileated woodpeckers, owls and coyotes. Or applaud them with your hands, not with flat, but a cupped clap to make more of a popping sound. It often works. Deer transformations have begun, not only coat changes, but antler buds and obviously pregnant does are easily determined to be in a family way. This exciting event will begin in about a month. Fish, including walleyes, perch and some trout are excited about spring, too. Walleyes, muskies and lake sturgeon are beginning to move, comparing favorably to great salmon runs of the west. Fishing will improve when water warms more and recedes from recent rain and snow. In spite of awful weather for the two-day youth turkey hunt, those who stuck it out in a covered blind may have seen numerous gobblers and jakes fighting among one another, enough of a scene to forget the game and marvel that either gobbler lives to gobble another day. Ken Szabo, of North Ridgeville, Ohio, has been compiling ruffed grouse hunting statistics from more than five states - Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin since 1975. With the drop in birds flushed and killed in many states last fall, Szabo suspects the main culprit in poor hunting is West Nile Virus. Some states have confirmed Szabo’s presumption with virus testing. Here in Wisconsin, and elsewhere, the spring (2017) drumming counts suggested an increase in bird population later in 2017. That did not materialize in many areas for most hunters. For example, 45 Wisconsin hunters responding to Szabo’s inquiry killed 148 birds. That compares to 244 the previous fall and a high of 379 kills in 2009. It is difficult to predict what Wisconsin’s grouse population and recruitment will be in 2018, in spite of the point in the 10-year-cycle. Usually, the cycle peaks in years ending in 9, 0 or 1 and has a low point about five years later. As green grass and other vegetation materialize, look for wildlife to become more obvious, giving a truer picture of the numbers having survived winter.
VERNON COUNTY - Woodpeckers of all species are increasing their drumming activity as the spring breeding season approaches. Drumming is the term applied to a woodpecker's habit of hammering rapidly and loudly on resonating substrates like trees, sign posts, downspouts, roof or chimney flashing, or house siding. Both male and female woodpeckers drum to proclaim territory and as a courtship behavior. Drumming sounds are an auditory means to identify different woodpecker species. Different woodpecker species possess different drumming sound characteristics. Length and speed of the drumming, as well as changes in tempo, frequency, or intensity provide identification clues to those who listen carefully, said Dave Matheys, wildlife biologist, Viroqua.
MEAD STATE WILDLIFE - Snowshoes are recommended for turkey hunting on Mead Wildlife Area. Snow is deep and will turn to slush on the weekend. There is no open water on impoundments except on edges. Parking will be difficult due to soft ground and snow/slush in parking areas, according to Brian Peters, property supervisor.
BUCKHORN STATE PARK - Heavy snow fell Sunday into Monday. Some roads are plowed, but more snow is forecast for Wednesday into Thursday, with warmer temperatures to melt snow later in the week. Trails will not be groomed for skiing and gates will be closed in areas until snow melts. Turkey hunting is starting with the first two periods in the park and wildlife areas for Zone 1. (April 18-May 1) Maps are available online or at the park office. Periods 3-6 are then allowed only in the Yellow River Wildlife Area, said Heather Wolf, park manager.
ROCHE-A-CRI STATE PARK - The main gate and camping are still closed. Parking is in the winter/prairie lot on Czech Ave and park stickers are required (self-registration box at parking lot). Turkey hunting is starting with the first two periods in the park and is Zone 1 (April 18-May 1st). Maps are available online, said Wolf.
Karen Perry from Wild Birds Unlimited
This is from my daughter's WBU Facebook post and WXOW interviewed her today about what to do about the birds in this snow spring situation were in: Wild Birds Unlimited phone has been ringing off the hook! You ask why? Everyone is concerned for our migratory birds and how we can help them survive in this annoying weather. We have help! Robins, bluebirds and other insect-eating species will also eat dried meal worms, fruit, WBU Bark Butter, Bark Butter Bits, suet and seeds that are out of their shell (ie., sunflower hearts, tree nuts and peanuts). Many birds also are looking for a good source of water, so keep those heated baths out and make sure there is fresh water. While some places are out of birdseed - that's our job - so we have a great supply of whatever your birds may need. Stop in at Wild Birds Unlimited (Crosseroads Center) across from Valley View. Feed the birds! Karen Perry
Around the Badger State
Old Man Winter is refusing to loosen his grip on Wisconsin, dropping from a few inches to more than 2 feet of snow across the state in a series of snowstorms in the last week. Crews from Pattison State Park and the Brule River State Forest continued to groom ski trails and reported good to excellent conditions. Other properties have put away grooming equipment, but skiing was still fair on ungroomed trails through central and even southern Wisconsin.The weather kept many fishermen inside this week, but warm weather this weekend should bring out lots of anglers. Walleye fishing was picking up on the Oconto, Peshtigo, Menominee and Wolf rivers prior to the snow, but then water temperatures dropped dramatically. There have still been hundreds of shore anglers and boaters out on the Fox River to catch a trophy walleye. Sturgeon are in the Wolf River, but with cold water it will be at least a week or longer before spawning will occur. Most Door County ramps and access points are blocked with snow. Before the storm, fishing was fairly productive. Boats launching at Sturgeon Bay were trolling for browns. Steelhead fishing was good before the storm with numbers of fish showing up in creeks. Anglers fishing the East Twin River had good success early in the week before snow. Anglers that braved the snowstorm caught a few fish, but nothing like earlier in the week. The West Twin River by the Shoto Dam produced fish all week long. Turkey hunters braved the cold weather both for the youth hunt in the blizzard with near whiteout conditions and 40 mph winds last weekend and on Wednesday for the opener. Those hunters that were excited to draw a first-season tag weren't so excited anymore. There was some success reported, but other hunters report that the birds are more interested in eating than mating. That should change in a hurry when this snow melts and temps warm up. Some of the older elk bulls have lost their antlers, but the rag horns still have theirs. Pussy willows are coming out, and sap is still being collected and cooked for maple syrup in the Northwoods. Due to the heavy snow there were many reports of sick and even dying birds that were caught by the storms. Among the species most negatively affected were American robins, hermit thrushes, yellow-rumped warblers, American woodcock, tree swallows, purple martins, eastern bluebirds and eastern phoebes. Bird feeders were incredibly active with many observers saying more visitors than they could ever remember. You can help migrants over the next few days by clearing snow to expose patches of bare ground, keeping feeders clean and full, and offering a variety of foods such as sunflower seeds, white millet, suet, peanut chunks, chopped raisins and other fruits, frozen berries and mealworms. With many State Park System properties buried under snow, many have either rescheduled or canceled the Work*Play*Earth Day events scheduled for this weekend. They are still going on at Interstate and Kohler-Andrae state parks and the Hank Aaron and Red Cedar State Trails. For all events search the DNR website for Get Outdoors.
Wisconsin Birding Report
Not surprisingly, the week's birding scene was heavily shaped by the large spring snowstorm that extended statewide. Early migrants were significantly affected, especially across the middle half of the state where the heaviest snow fell. Despite blizzard conditions in the far north, impacts were reduced there simply because many migrants had not yet returned. Among the species most negatively affected elsewhere were American robins, hermit thrushes, yellow-rumped warblers, American woodcock, tree swallows, purple martins, eastern bluebirds and eastern phoebes. Some birds took shelter near or even in garages and other structures, while many could be found along roadsides or any other places with exposed, bare ground. Bird feeders were incredibly active with many observers saying more than they could ever remember. Robins took to suet, seed, raisins and other fruits. Northern flickers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, and other woodpeckers visited suet, as did many yellow-rumped and a few pine warblers. Blackbirds, dark-eyed juncos, and various sparrows were also abundant ground feeders in the south and central, including unusually large concentrations of fox sparrows there, while common redpolls continued to dominate up north. The first brown thrashers, eastern towhees, and both yellow-headed and rusty blackbirds also adorned feeding stations in above-average numbers. Other roadside birds commonly reported were eastern meadowlarks, horned larks, Lapland longspurs and snow buntings. Because water sources remained open and thus food available, waterbirds were far less affected by the storm. Most notable this week were reports from Lake Michigan where many red-breasted mergansers and increasing numbers of Bonaparte's gulls were found. Surveys from the Harrington Beach area in Ozaukee County tallied 500-plus long-tailed ducks on April 28, and 37 red-throated loons amid 284 common loons on April 16. 250-plus long-tailed ducks were also reported from Washington Island. Some of this week's rarities included Eurasian wigeon in Brown County, western grebe in Sheboygan, marbled godwits in Racine and Ozaukee, Townsend's solitaire in Milwaukee, black-necked stilt in Dane, red-necked grebes in various locations, and perhaps most unusual of all, a yellow rail brought to a wildlife rehabilitator in Dane. Looking ahead, you can help migrants over the next few days by clearing snow to expose patches of bare ground, keeping feeders clean and full, and offering a variety of foods such as sunflower seeds, white millet, suet, peanut chunks, chopped raisins and other fruits, frozen berries and mealworms. Although the weather is going to improve drastically and quickly, the birds will need time to rebuild energy reserves sapped by the storm. Meanwhile, warmer, drier weather will bring many new migrants over the week ahead, especially Sunday-Tuesday on the heels of southerly tail winds. Visit dnr.wi.gov, keyword "rehab," if you find a bird in need of help, and help us track bird populations by reporting sightings to www.ebird.org/wi. Good birding!
SOURCE: Ryan Brady, NHC conservation biologist in Ashland