DNR Outdoor Report: Winter Returns | Environment
The calendar says May but a fresh foot of snow has Copper Falls State Park in Ashland County looking more like January. An unusual spring snowstorm dropped from a few inches to a foot or more of snow in northwestern Wisconsin Wednesday into Thursday. And with the inland game fish opener this Saturday, lakes across much of the northern third of Wisconsin are still locked in ice.
Meanwhile in the south, things have dried out and the spring wildfire season, which has been very quiet so far, picked up considerably with 105 wildfires burning 236 acres in the past week in the portion of the state where DNR has fire suppression responsibility.
Most northern lakes have some open water areas near inlets and outlets and along some shorelines, but many boat landings were still iced in and inaccessible for boat launching. Anglers wanting to fish waters north of about Highway 64 should shift to “plan B,” which may be fishing the major river systems such as the Wisconsin and Flambeau, or heading out after trout on small creeks and streams. While fisheries crews have been able to stock trout in some areas, the cold spring has delayed trout stocking on other waters. Ice anglers continue fishing on some northern lakes this week, but conservation wardens caution that ice is deteriorating and anyone who ventures out on the ice should use extreme caution.
With temperatures in the 70s sturgeon started spawning on the Wolf River. DNR fisheries crews handle more than 350 fish Wednesday at the Shawano dam. The fish spawning came on fast and will likely peak at the Shawano dam Friday into the weekend. Check the DNR website for sturgeon spawning and watching information.
Walleye spawning has ended on the Winnebago system and the white bass run has not started yet but should be coming quickly warmer temperatures return. The walleye run on the Wisconsin River is also winding down and fishing has been slow due to high water and the late spring, but anglers reported catching walleyes on the Bark and Rock rivers in Jefferson County.
The ice is almost all the way out on Green Bay and boaters were launching at a variety of locations, with most targeting walleye and brown trout. Water levels are dropping on Lake Michigan tributaries and steelhead action was slowing, but some were still being caught on the Sheboygan, Milwaukee, Root and other rivers.
With the warmer temperatures last weekend and early this week, turkey hunters were finally getting some more active birds with toms observed displaying and some better success at least in the south.
Warmer weather earlier this week brought the expected first large push of Neotropical migrants to southern Wisconsin. Birders are reporting 10-15 species of warblers in a morning including some show stoppers like blackburnian and Cape May warblers. In the north, Open water is attracting large numbers of loons, grebes and waterfowl, but the additional 6-12 inches of snow on the ground as of Thursday will have swallows and other insectivores that have arrived struggling to find food.
Statewide Birding Report
Warmer weather earlier this week brought the expected first large push of Neotropical migrants to southern Wisconsin. Birders are reporting 10-15 species of warblers in a morning including some show stoppers like blackburnian and Cape May warblers. Backyard feeders are now flush with orioles, grosbeaks, white-throated sparrows and house wrens are occupying nest boxes. Most of the migratory waterfowl have pushed out of the south, but marshes are now holding Virginia and sora rails, bitterns and other nesting water birds. Grassland birds have pushed in with the latest fronts including grasshopper and Henslow’s sparrow, bobolinks and upland sandpipers.
The story in northern Wisconsin is much different. Migration over the weekend brought some large pushes of water birds, raptors and sparrows. Open water is attracting large numbers of loons, grebes and waterfowl. Northern Wisconsin birders with active feeders are reporting fox sparrows, tree sparrows, juncos and white-throated sparrows. A few early warblers including pine and palm have shown up. Swallows and other insectivores that have arrived are likely struggling with an additional 6-12 inches of snow on the ground as of this Thursday. The woods are still quiet with a few territorial hermit thrushes, winter wrens and sapsuckers singing. Raptor migration was very good this past weekend with a few golden eagles, lots of red-tailed and broad-winged hawks.
The seven-day forecast suggests more migration to happen early next week. Birders should expect to see more warblers, thrushes, hummingbirds, orioles and other neotropical migrants to arrive in most habitat types. Birders should pay attention to the phenology of plants in their area for clues as to where the best warbler watching will be. Focus on woodlands with flowering trees and developing leaves. Forests with wetlands are also good right now as the hatching aquatic insects attract migrants. Shrubby edges to woodlands that have morning sunlight should also be good for pre-workday birding.
- Andy Paulios, wildlife biologists and Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative coordinator
The DNR has primary fire suppression responsibility in about half the state. In those areas, 105 wildfires burned 236 acres in the past week. Ten structures burned and 71 others were threatened during these fires. The majority of the fires were caused by debris burning and equipment. The largest was a 35-acre fire in Eau Claire County which was caused when a debris pile, burned the night before, reignited and escaped.
The public is encouraged to put off debris burning projects this time of year. If not completely extinguished, burned debris piles can harbor smoldering embers in the ash for hours, days, or even weeks. Windy conditions in the spring can blow the ash around, exposing the embers and allowing them to become flames, sometimes with damaging consequences.
The DNR wants to remind everyone to be careful with anything that can start a wildfire when you’re out fishing, hunting, camping, doing yard work, or looking for mushrooms. Fire danger can vary from one day to the next this time of the year, depending on weather and dryness of the vegetation. Check this site for current statewide fire danger, burning permit information, and to subscribe to fire news emails: dnr.wi.gov (search "fire danger").
Firewise Tip: Create firebreaks around your home. Keep the area 3 to 5 feet around your home “fuel free.” Remove anything in this area that can burn, such as leaves, plants, mulch, or piled wood. Use rock and stone landscaping materials next to buildings instead of wood mulch. Keep your lawn raked free of debris and mowed short. Find out more at dnr.wi.gov (keyword "Firewise").
Douglas County – Up to 8 inches of new snow fell Wednesday and Thursday, which replaced the snow that had melted earlier in the week. Most area lakes area lakes are expected to remain ice covered for Saturday’s fishing opener, although some amount of open water near shorelines may occur. Daytime high temperatures are predicted to remain in the 30s through the weekend.
- John Krull, conservation warden, Superior
Copper Falls State Park – More than 12 inches of heavy, wet snow fell Wednesday and Thursday, which is the equivalent of 1.57 inches of water. Highway 169 has reopened south of the park allowing people access to the park from the south. The barricades have simply been moved to the side of the road as we expect the river to come back up when this snow melts. If Tyler Forks floods to our north, all access points to Copper Falls will be closed.
- Ben Bergey, superintendent
Pattison State Park – The snow melted, the snow reappeared. Both Big Manitou Falls and Little Manitou Falls are at peak flow and very impressive to see. Please call the park at 715-399-3111 for up to the minute park conditions. The camping season is on its way with reservations being taken for the weekend. The shower building and flush toilets are still not open at this time.
- Phillip Brown, Ranger
Crex Meadows State Wildlife - The flowages are mostly open and birds are coming through in numbers. Birds reported in the area this week include: Purple martins, whip-poor-will, belted kingfisher, eastern phoebe, dark eyed juncos, purple finches, bluebirds, and pine siskins. Thrushes, blackbirds, sparrows, and warblers are also being reported. Waterfowl are still migrating through including: red-necked and horned grebe, ruddy duck, northern shovelers, canvasbacks, widgeons, gadwalls, goldeneye, and red breasted mergansers. Shorebirds in the area include: Bonaparte’s and franklin gulls, cormorants, American bittern, green heron, and lesser yellowlegs. Raptors are being reported such as: peregrine falcons, American kestrels, and short-eared owls. Sharp-tailed grouse were observed at Rices Lake, Murphy’s Road, and James Road. Listen for western chorus frogs, wood frogs, and spring peepers around the smaller wetland areas.
- Kristi Pupak, natural resources educator