Deep snow drifts, piles of snow, endless shoveling and snowblowing machines are causing sore muscles and backs this winter.
Thermometers are also getting a workout displaying numbers and mercury levels not realized since last year's winter. These are advantages for some, yet struggles to others attempting to survive another winter.
We’ve heard stories about ruffed grouse (pictured) snow-roosting, sometimes diving into a drift or even 12 inches of fluffy stuff overlaying the land. Snow is great insulation if it’s not too heavy and hard. Crusty snow hinders most critters, but gives advantage to lightweight predators, who sail over the top while sharp-hooved deer cut through.
Below snow drifts and deeper still are mice and shrews that often get what they need to survive by never coming above to look, even for their shadow.
Plant root systems and crowns are usually protected from raw winters by snow’s insulation. Some plant parts are protected from gnawing rabbits that don’t touch the under-snow stem regions while girdling the exposed stems. Farm crops, such as winter wheat and alfalfa, take advantage of snow cover, while often killed by snowless Decembers.
Wisconsin's lake sturgeon spearing season has been hampered somewhat by ice conditions and water clarity, but probably continues through the entire 16-day season. Continue to follow daily DNR updates through season’s end, not likely until Feb. 23.
Robins continue to amaze birdwatchers, even though we know a sizable lot of these birds, as well as bluebirds, take advantage of sun-thawing ice and snow on rooftops to get much-needed water.
Berries become the food of choice from hackberries (City of La Crosse) and crab apples (most urban backyards). Recently, it was noticed that robins had found some albeit temporary satisfaction on small buckthorn trees, now that other food sources are low. But birds can get diarrhea from buckthorn berries, which can weaken them. Blue stains on walkways and houses are often the result of robin droppings that have been eating this forbidden fruit.
Ground feeding for a dozen bird species has been as successful as feeder displays, according to Bob Ross, at Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shop on Old Sauk Road in Middleton.
“Meal worms, alive and dried, have been taken by bluebirds and robins,” he said.
Carolina wrens and flickers are two of the more uncommon birds visiting area feeders, with red polls and pine siskins being no-shows during this unusual winter.
A few bluegill anglers fishing in private ponds in Green, Dane, Sauk and Lafayette counties have complained about grubs in the flesh of some bluegills, according to Don Martin, at Martin’s Sporting Goods.
"Some anglers don’t notice them, and likely eat them,” he said. Coyote hunters continue to have success with dogs, with prime pelts bringing about $50, Martin said.
The DNR reported that wolves depredated a beef calf in the Town of Oakland in Douglas County.
Backwater and slough panfishing have been good, according to Wayne Whitemarsh, at McFarlanes’ Sports Department in Sauk City. He said anglers have also been catching walleyes.
An outstate fur buyer has one more trip to McFarlanes’ early next month.
Fall turkey hunting continues to be a missed opportunity with the success rate the last two years running about 5 percent. In the 2019 season, there were 3,792 birds registered, 10 more than in 2,018.
Keep looking for harbingers of spring. A few blooms and bud swellings can be documented, turkeys are responding to coyote howls, and bucks are shedding their antlers. All are signs we’re heading toward spring on March 20.