DNR Outdoor Report: January Thaw | Environment
An early January thaw and rain in the forecast for this week has conservation wardens across the state cautioning people about thin ice and potentially dangerous conditions on lakes throughout the state. There have been a number of reports this week of vehicles and ice anglers going through the ice at various locations.
With no new snow since the late December snowstorm, snow levels have dropped statewide, and most counties have now closed snowmobile trails, according to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism’s Snow Conditions Report. Trails remain open in the most northern tier of counties but are in poor to fair condition. Cross-country ski trails were faring better as of Thursday, but rain in the forecast Thursday night could change that. Lake Kegonsa State Park in Dane County had cancelled a candlelight ski scheduled for Saturday night, but candlelight events at Kohler-Andrea and Wildcat Mountain state parks and the Lapham Peak Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest were still scheduled. People interested in attending these events should contact the properties directly on Saturday to confirm if they will be held.
In the cold snap before the recent warm-up, ice had been forming on Lake Superior’s Chequamegon Bay with some people beginning to drive vehicles out, but extreme caution needed as an ATV went through a pressure ridge with the operator getting out after a cold and wet wake up call. Ice was also forming on Lake Michigan’s Green Bay, but there was still open water off Oconto. Ice conditions along Door County are extremely poor at best, with ice only present on a sheltered bays. Several anglers had to be rescued this week day when a section of ice they were fishing on near the southern end of Door County broke off and began floating away with the anglers still on it.
Inland, lakes in the Northwoods have ice depths up to 9 to 10 inches, with only about 2 to 3 inches of snow on top. Some undisturbed areas of the lakes may still only have 6 to 7 inches of ice and not enough to support larger vehicles.
Despite nice fishing weather, walleye action has continued a generally erratic trend into the new year. Northern pike success has been fair to good. Panfish action has been sporadic, with a few nice catches of crappie, bluegill and perch reported but anglers have had to move around quite a bit to find the active fish.
In the south, ice conditions vary greatly, with some larger lakes like Mendota still having open water, to smaller lakes having ice ranging up to 4 to 6 inches, but still highly variable. Anglers have been having some decent success in the south for panfish, and open water anglers have been fishing walleye and sauger below the Prairie du Sac dam.
While the warm-up is not favorable for human winter recreation, wildlife have been be enjoying the weather. Deer are somewhat grouped up and have been able to paw through the snow, or use exposed south-facing slopes. Raccoons have ventured out of their dens for a stretch and a snack. Squirrels are also out of their nests looking for a bite to eat. Otters have been running and sliding on the ice in the backwaters. Muskrat and beaver trappers were pretty active until the ice got too thick to easily chop through.
Bald eagles have begun to congregate along open water stretches of the Wisconsin, Baraboo, Fox, and Mississippi rivers. Visitors to backyard feeders have included juncos, chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, goldfinches, cardinals, blue jays and red-bellied, downy and hairy woodpeckers. It's been a good season for varied thrushes in Wisconsin so far with no fewer than 10 reported. A female northern shrike first banded in March 2006 has returned to its winter territory near Ashland for at least an eighth consecutive year, making her at least 8.5 years old and by far the oldest northern shrike ever known in North America
Statewide Birding Report
It's been a good season for varied thrushes in Wisconsin so far with no fewer than 10 birds reported. People who know of one not on the eBird/WI map, please send details and It'll be added. A female northern shrike first banded in March 2006 has returned to its winter territory near Ashland for at least an eighth consecutive year, making her at least 8.5 years old and by far the oldest northern shrike ever known in North America. Read more about her unique story at: ebird.org -- the oldest northern shrike in North America (exit DNR). A boreal owl was seen last week in a Bayfield County yard. The bird spent the afternoon sleepily roosting away, providing views for local birders. - Ryan Brady, Bureau of Wildlife Management research scientist, Ashland
Brule River State Forest – Cross-country ski conditions on the After Hours trail were fair as of Jan. 9, with tree debris on trails (needles, leaves, branches). Trail conditions are diminishing due to warm weather and wind. Rock skis are recommended.
- Catherine Khalar, visitor services associate
Bayfield County - No new snow has fallen in the past few weeks with not much to be had on the ground the way it is. The ice had been forming well with the recent cold snap and some people driving out on Chequamegon Bay with ATVs, snowmobiles, and trucks. Extreme caution needs to be used as an ATV went through a pressure ridge with the operator thankfully getting out after a cold and wet wake up call. Remember to wear a personal floatation device and ice picks when venturing out on the ice. Without much snow around the deer have not been heading to the lower elevations so hiking around for antler sheds might be a fun way to break up the winter blues if you have them! Fishing on Chequamegon Bay has been tough even for the best of the anglers, so patience is a key lately. Snowmobiling is pretty nonexistent at this time, but snow may be in the forecast.
- Amie Egstad, conservation warden, Bayfield
Pattison State Park - The park has 3 inches of snow on the ground at this time. Ski trails are in fair condition with a few areas of less than an inch of snow on the trail. The trails were last groomed on Jan. 5. Please call the park at 715-399-3111 for up to the minute grooming report as trails are continually groomed as new snow falls. There have had been a few winter campers at the park over the past few weeks. Pattison State Park maintains one electric and one non electric site for winter campers.
- Phillip Brown, Ranger
Burnett County - The mild damp weather of recent days has melted a lot of the snow, which has made wildlife viewing more difficult, but snow is currently in the forecast. Snowmobile trails are closed and cross-country ski trails in the area are not groomed. Ice conditions vary across the county with 6- 12 inches on most lakes. Use caution when traveling on any frozen lakes. Fishing activity on area lakes has slowed down the morning panfish bite has still been producing fair numbers of fish.
- Christopher Spaight ,conservation warden, Grantsburg
Crex Meadows State Wildlife - There are a number of eagles and rough-legged hawks in the area. Eagles have been spotted feeding on dead deer near the side of the road. This can be a hazard to collisions with the eagles. Low snow depth makes for easy movement for a variety of wildlife, as well as humans trekking through the woods. There is a Candlelight Night scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 26 from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. at Crex Meadows Wildlife Area. Check out the website for more details. www.crexmeadows.org/events.
- Heidi Rusch, natural resources educator
Upper Chippewa Basin fisheries report (Price, Rusk, Sawyer Taylor and inland Ashland and Iron counties) - The recent mild weather has kept ice depths in the 9 to 10-inch range on most lakes in the Upper Chippewa Basin, with only about 2 to 3 inches of snow on top of that. Slush has not been a problem yet, and ATVs and snowmobiles have had good travel to most areas of the lakes. There have been some sightings of trucks and cars also venturing out onto the lakes but caution is still urged for any vehicle travel. Some undisturbed areas of the lakes may still only have 6 to 7 inches of ice and not enough to support larger vehicles. Despite the nice fishing weather, walleye action continues its generally erratic trend into the new year. Reports from the popular local walleye waters such as the Phillips Chain, Butternut Lake and Turtle-Flambeau Flowage indicated fair to poor success over the holiday period. A few decent catches were made on the flowage, with the best action coming in the late afternoon hours with tip-ups in 4 to 10 feet of water. Northern pike success has been fair to good, and some decent catches have been made in the mid-day period. Golden shiners fished near any old weed beds have been the key to catching pike. Panfish action has been sporadic - a few nice catches of crappie, bluegill and perch have been reported but anglers have had to move around quite a bit to find the active fish. Trout action on Patterson Lake (just east of Park Falls) has been good, with some nice rainbows being taken through the ice.
- Skip Sommerfeldt, senior fisheries biologist, Park Falls