WOW! What a difference one week makes in the weather. There was blanket of snow covering the ground one week ago. Now, all that's left are a few snowbanks in the Coulee Region. Unfortunately, folks farther upriver aren't quite so lucky. Here in God's Country, I can actually see green grass, skunk cabbage and watercress. Turkeys are gobbling, deer are feeding and roadkills are becoming more common. Trout streams are babbling for anglers to come and check them out, especially when the "catch and keep" season opens May 5. Pelicans continue to dot local rivers. Sandhill cranes are making their presence known in lowlands and fields. Bald eagles are nesting. Canada geese and ducks are searching for high ground to raise another batch of young. I have definitely grown accustomed to temperatures in the 60s and 70s. We have been doing less fishing and more working on Ol' Tom's boathouse this week as rivers continue to rise. The latest forecast is 12.5 feet - one-half foot over flood stage - in La Crosse late next week, but as we all know, that could change. Until we meet, have a great day outdoors.
From Southern Wisconsin
Nearly a month after first celebrating the year’s second season, spring is again knocking and this is no April Fool. We’ll hear, see, smell, feel and taste spring this time around for sure. Changes will be fast and difficult to keep up with now that May is fast approaching. Turkey fanatics are finally likely to receive pleasant, spring weather. And snow will not hinder those walks in the woods. No more sounding as though we’re walking on sheet metal (crusty snow). Damp leaves will help intruders remain nearly invisible. But the prey, too, will be silent walkers, so it’s not a complete advantage for hunters. Hunters’ helpers, the “who cooks for you” barred owls, are vocal this time around, and still well-camouflaged, silent fliers. Migrants continue to fly through. Stopping momentarily are warblers and an occasional crowned kinglet. So small this flier is that some refer to the insect picker as a birdlet. No wonder it was named a kinglet. More common are birds who stick with us throughout this season and next - yellow-bellied sapsuckers, killdeers, timberdoodlers, and many more. Window boxing cardinals and robins let us know our windows reflect, and probably have to be cleaned again. Tom turkeys have also gotten into the habit. Thick, limey shoots of Mayapples are appearing in the oak forests. Depredation of calves continue to be reported due to wolves and coyotes. Some old news, some new news, of chronic wasting disease confirmations are bringing with them baiting and feeding bans. Votes from the recent spring hearings are likely to initiate some changes, but several asks, which are less likely to turn into rule and regulation changes, are the elimination of the group deer hunting law, adjusting the length of the crossbow season and rules regarding large caliber pneumatic rifles and bows. The 2017 Wisconsin field warden of the year is Ed McCann, who was presented the Haskell Noyes gold watch at a banquet in La Crosse recently. This prestigious award was initialed in 1930 by Milwaukee businessman Haskell Noyes, as the conservation warden efficiency award and is presented annually to a field warden. The Noyes family has continued to present this award and gold watch to a warden selected by Wisconsin administrative wardens. They continue to support numerous conservation causes. News from Decorah, Iowa, where a now-famous eagle pair has been on a nest camera for several years, is that the male eagle is missing. The eggs, three, hatched and are being cared for by the female. There is a fish hatchery across the road and plenty of easy, close food for the female eagle to pick up without much hunting and quickly return. At least one other male eagle is hanging around the area, but is encouraged to leave and stay away by the eaglet-tending female. Trout anglers continue to cast flies and spinners in preparation for the May 5 regular trout season opener. It’s this season that allows the taking of trout from many streams and sections of streams throughout the state. Food finding foraging is beginning, too, with garlic mustard greens, watercress salad, and some leeks and chives showing green. Can fungi be far behind? Last year morels began appearing about April 20, during that normal spring. Given that, don’t be surprised if someone reports this mushroom appearing by April’s end.
Schafer's River Rentals
It's nice to see some warm weather head our way, although the quick warm-up is dumping a lot of snowmelt into the river. So far, Lake Onalaska is fine. Once the river hits 10 feet in La Crosse, you start to see more dramatic changes on the lake. I am cautiously optimistic that fishing will keep on improving through the high water, with water clarity being the big question. I have heard upstream that they are keeping decent water clarity instead of chocolate milk that you can get with high water, so cross your fingers. As soon as it warmed up last week, the crappies turned on. I have been getting good reports from the few guys who have been out. The pressure has been really light for whatever reason, which has been nice for the guys who are fishing. The northern bite has been OK, but it seems like they are really thrown off with this weird weather. The bass have started picking up, especially in Brice Prairie Channel. Another interesting tidbit I heard is that some guys who were floating for crappies last weekend were dragging crawlers on the bottom and picking up some nice perch. I don't think there was a ton in the way of numbers, but there was size there. Stop in and get the hot colors and the latest report! Thanks, Chad
Karen Perry from Wild Birds Unlimited
Snow is gone and the northern birds have left our yard. So far this week I have seen chipping sparrows and this morning I heard a house wren. No sign of orioles yet, but could be any day. Be ready with oranges, nectar, grape jelly as well as WBU bark butter bits and meal worms! Be a good landlord to your nesting boxes and keep house sparrows OUT! If you need help with this, stop in or call: Wild Birds Unlimited 9348 State Hwy 16, Suite 214 Onalaska, WI 54650 608-781-5088 Happy spring and let us know what's in your backyard! Karen Perry
KINNICKINIC STATE PARK - The high sun angle and warmer spring temperatures have greatly reduced the park's snowpack. Many south facing slopes and open areas are nearly snow free. Other areas with less direct sunlight, such as in the woods or on north facing slopes, have knee deep snow. Loons, hooded mergansers and wood ducks have been seen on the waters of the park and in surrounding areas. Nesting eagles have been active and can be observed from the St. Croix overlook. Blue birds and tree swallows are staking out their nesting boxes in the prairies and gobbling wild turkeys can be heard by those who visit the park during the early mornings. The St. Croix's main channel is generally ice fee. Spring snowmelt has impacted river levels. The river is predicted to rise above the 683 foot slow no wake threshold. Boaters should monitor river levels and conditions prior to venturing out on the river. The hill from the St. Croix parking lot to the beach is closed to vehicle traffic. It is still accessible to foot travel and is the most convenient access to the St. Croix River. All park trails are open to foot travel. Trail surfaces vary from scattered snow and puddles, to mud and grass. Spring weather causes conditions to change day by day. Waterproof footwear with good traction is encouraged. Mountain bikes and/or fat tire bikes are not allowed on park trails. Fishing on the Kinnickinnic River is open for Wisconsin's early catch and release trout season. A valid Wisconsin fishing license and trout stamp are required. Anglers have been finding success with a variety of nymphs, midges and dry flies, according to Eric Klumb, ranger.
VERNON COUNTY - Finally! Warm temperatures have created favorable conditions for increased animal activities. Spring peepers are peeping, chorus frogs are singing, wood frogs are croaking, snipe are winnowing, woodcock are peenting, turkeys are gobbling and turkey vultures are soaring. Turkey vultures are marvelous birds with several unique characteristics and adaptations. As the mornings brighten, turkey vultures may often be seen sunning themselves by spreading their wings and exposing them to sun's warmth for several minutes before they fly. This sunning behavior helps elevate their body temperature before they try to fly and also supports vitamin D production within their body. They tend to be late risers, waiting for the sun to warm them and to create thermals so they can circle and fly directly to a food source located the previous day. Turkey vultures use their 6-foot wingspan to glide and soar extensively on thermal updrafts and seldom flap their wings for powered flight. While soaring, turkey vultures use their acutely developed sense smell and sight to locate carrion, their primary food source. As a group, most birds have poorly developed olfactory senses, but it is the complete opposite in turkey vultures. Weak feet and talons for the bird's size preclude turkey vulture from carrying off carrion in their talons. Instead, they gorge themselves at the feeding site and use the lift of their wings to become airborne. If they have consumed too much food to become airborne, they may regurgitate a portion to decrease their weight. Turkey vultures appear to have excellent immune systems, feasting on carcasses without contracting botulism, anthrax, cholera, or salmonella. Turkey vultures are social birds and often gather and soar in large flocks known as kettles. They do not construct nests, preferring to lay their eggs in the ground in dark recesses among rocky ledges, caves, crevices, or hollow logs. Sometimes they will utilize abandoned stick nest of other large birds, mammal burrows, or abandoned buildings. Fortunately, turkey vulture numbers have increased over the past 50 years and are strong throughout North America, according to Dave Matheys, wildlife biologist, Viroqua.
BLACK RIVER STATE FOREST - Spring temperatures have finally arrived with highs in the 60s and low 70s this week. Snow is melting quickly with only the larger piles of snow remaining. This is a great time to visit the state forest. Birds are moving through on their spring migration, insects populations are still low, and trees are starting to bud out. Hiking and biking trails are open, but may be a little muddy in spots. Temperatures this weekend are expected to be in the high 50s to mid 60s. The East Fork Campground will open on Friday, April 27. The shower/flush toilet building and dump station at Castle Mound will re-open on Tuesday May 1, according to Emily Alf, visitor services associate.
BUCKHRON STATE PARK - People have been fishing from shore at the Buckhorn bridge. The flowage is still in drawdown and piers will not be installed until the lake level is normal (should be around the last week of April to beginning of May). Cranes, osprey, eagles, woodcock, turkeys, grouse and more are being seen all around the park. One little brown bat has returned to the office bulletin board. Turkey hunting is open the first two periods in the park and wildlife areas and are Zone 1. (April 18-May 1) Maps are available online or at park office. Periods 3-6 are then allowed only in the Yellow River Wildlife Area. The new campground is open and non-reservable until May 1, according to Heather Wolf, park manager.
ROCHE-A-CRI STATE PARK - The main gate will open May 5, for the park's Work & Play Day event. Turkey hunting is open the first two periods in the park and wildlife areas and are Zone 1. (April 18-May 1), according to Wolf.
Wisconsin Birding Report
The north comes alive with birds. What a difference a week makes. The north saw a major transformation with a flood of migrants over the weekend. Some arrivals included yellow-bellied sapsuckers, northern flickers, yellow-rumped and pine warblers, eastern bluebirds, eastern phoebes, hermit thrushes, tree, barn and cliff swallows, rusty blackbirds, brown-headed cowbirds, winter wrens, eastern meadowlarks, purple finches, ruby- and golden-crowned kinglets, and many sparrows such as fox, song, savannah, chipping, American tree, white-throated and white-crowned. Large numbers of American robins and dark-eyed juncos moved north as well. On the water, blue-winged teal, red-necked grebes, Bonaparte's gulls, greater yellowlegs, ospreys and double-crested cormorants made appearances amid many duck species where open water was available. Overhead, some great hawk flights brought many turkey vultures, red-tailed, rough-legged, sharp-shinned and the first broad-winged hawks of the season. Not too shabby down south either. Farther south, wetlands came alive with the first American bitterns, soras, common gallinules, Forster's terns, swamp sparrows, yellow-headed blackbirds and continuing waterfowl. More purple martins, barn swallows and American white pelicans have also arrived. Over 2,000 tundra swans were reported at Mead State Wildlife Area earlier in the week, while equally impressive were reports of 1,000 bufflehead on Lake Sinissippi, nearly 2,000 American coots near La Crosse and hundreds of Caspian terns migrating north along the Lake Michigan shore. Although the juncos, hermit thrushes and various sparrows have thinned out across the south, some welcome arrivals there included palm and black-throated green warbler, Louisiana waterthrush, gray catbird, blue-gray gnatcatcher, LeConte's sparrow and broad-winged hawk. Also of note were marbled godwits, Hudsonian godwit and American avocets at several locations, with more expected along with willets this upcoming week, especially along Lake Michigan beaches. Lastly, common loons remain stacked up in above-average numbers as they wait for 20-30 inches of ice to thaw yet on northern breeding lakes. Courtship and nesting activity means ruffed grouse are finally drumming, turkeys gobbling and woodcock flight-displaying, while sharp-tailed grouse and greater prairie-chicken dancing activity is picking up. Fledged young were reported in Canada goose, sandhill crane, mourning dove, red crossbill and great horned owl. Young bald eagles are hatching and birders reported nest building activities in black-capped chickadees, red-breasted nuthatches, and American robins, among others. Snowy owls are still being seen, albeit in lower numbers and primarily in central and northern Wisconsin now. However, at least four of Wisconsin's five tagged owls have shown little sign of northward migration as of just a few days ago! Rarities found this week included loggerhead shrike in Rock, mountain bluebird in Burnett, western tanagers in Outagamie and Iron, Townsend's solitaire in Milwaukee, harlequin duck in Kewaunee, northern mockingbird in Waukesha, and black-legged kittiwake in Ozaukee counties. The week ahead should be an exciting one as warm south winds will usher in many new migrants Sunday night through Wednesday morning. Expect the first wave of Baltimore orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks, indigo buntings, ruby-throated hummingbirds and various warbler species to at least portions of southern Wisconsin. Also keep an eye to shorelines for large shorebirds like willets, godwits, and avocets and another to the sky for big groups of migrating broad-winged hawks. As always, track migration progress by species at https://bit.ly/2HRRLEk and put your sightings on the map by submitting them to www.ebird.org/wi. Good birding!
SOURCE: Ryan Brady, NHC conservation biologist in Ashland
Around the Badger State
What a difference a week makes! Even far northern Wisconsin is finally making it to spring. With temperatures in the 50s and 60s, snow is melting quickly in the Northwoods, although it isn't gone yet and it may be awhile before its gone in the woods. Northern lakes still have up to 2 feet of ice and it's looking at this point that some lakes will still be iced over when the general fishing season opens on May 5. With all the snowmelt, waterfalls have come to life. Last Friday both Big and Little Manitou Falls at Pattison State Park were completely ice covered, but with warmer temperatures, they both came to life. People were eager to see the transformation with more than 385 vehicles visiting the park over the weekend to view the falls. Both Forks of the Flambeau are also open now and their falls are roaring. As things are drying out, we're also moving into the spring wildfire season. In the last week, 60 wildfires burned 129 acres in DNR Protection Areas. Half of the fires were caused by debris burning. Stay aware of fire danger and burning restrictions by searching the DNR website for keyword fire. Redhorse are running on the Flambeau River and suckers are running on many Lake Michigan tributaries. Anglers were still catching walleye on the Menominee, Peshtigo and Oconto rivers, but the bite was slowing down with more suckers coming up rivers. Over 150 boats were put in at the Oconto Breakwater Harbor on Saturday, and many anglers were reporting mixed success. There has still been hundreds of anglers out to catch a trophy walleye on the Fox River, but with the recent weather changes fish haven't been as active. Lots of boats were out over the weekend fishing during a Door County brown trout tournament. Anglers reported action wasn't great, but some large individuals were caught, including a winning fish just over 22 pounds. Green Bay side boat landings are still locked with ice and much ice remains in the lower bay including the bays of Little Sturgeon, Riley's, Sand and the mouth of Sturgeon Bay. Melting snow dramatically increased flow rates in streams and steelhead action has been good. Manitowoc River water levels increased drastically and steelhead fishing has decreased. Anglers, who were dip netting for suckers, have had mixed success. West Twin River anglers fishing by Shoto Dam were doing well early in the week, but fishing decreased as the water continued to rise and clarity decreased. Two Rivers pier fishing is starting to pick up as the water temps continue to rise. Pressure on the Sheboygan south pier was very high this weekend because of the nice weather. Anglers are reporting good numbers of brown trout along with the occasional steelhead. Anglers targeting steelhead on the Sheboygan River near the Kohler dam were reasonably successful despite the fast and high water. Bears and bear cubs are coming out of their dens. Tom turkeys are gobbling and displaying for the hens with multiple fanned toms seen among flocks. Turkey hunting is in the second period. Ruffed grouse are drumming, more American woodcock are displaying and peenting, snipe are winnowing, sharp-tailed grouse and greater prairie chicken dancing activity is picking up and turkey vultures are soaring. Pussy willows are coming out and maples are budding. Sap was still being collected and cooked in the north, but the season is coming to an end. Hepatica blooms have been seen in some hardwoods stands and pasque flowers were emerging in southern prairie areas. And a good sign of spring in the south, spring peepers are peeping, chorus frogs are singing and wood frogs are croaking. After multiple reschedules and cancellation of Work*Play*Earth Day events last weekend due to properties being buried in snow, this weekend you can help out at 10 different properties Friday and Saturday then stick around to enjoy yourself. For details search the DNR website for "Get Outdoors."
Billy Isbell from Island Outdoors on French Island
Hey, it's Billy here at Island Outdoors. Fishing has begun to pick up. Walleye and perch have been spawned for the most part. There are a lot of reports of some still having eggs. The walleye and perch fishing has been fair to midland. Walleye are picking up from the shores in the shallows later in the day with them pushing bait fish up against the banks as they are seeking respite from the hard, pushing, rising water. Using fire tiger colors has been working great. Also using paddle tail swim baits in various colors. Perch have been mostly minnows and red worms. Bass have been biting good as well using magnum walleye minnows, jerk baits and rattle traps. Crappies have been biting on minnows. Fish the structure around fallen trees and bridge pillars. Catfish have been non-existent as of yet. Water temperature has been on the rise as well as the water level. The main river is in the 40's now and the Black River in the 50's. The river is 10 foot now and on the rise to crest around 12.5 feet. Watch local regulations because at 10 feet there is "no wake" around developed shorelines. At 12 feet, they pretty much shut down the river. Watch for trees and debris as you travel the river.