For current statewide information on statewide snow conditions, log onto the Wisconsin Department of Tourism's Snow Conditions Report .
Some very warm weather early in the week, reaching into the 50s statewide, has taken a toll on winter sports conditions, especially in the southern half of the state. The warm weather melted a lot of snow in a hurry leaving a muddy mess in far southern areas and water standing in many fields and yards. Many southern facing slopes in the south are now snow free, much to the delight of wildlife.
In the north, however, while snow settled some with the warm up, the deep snow persists. Snowmobile trails remain open and are still being reported as good to very good in many northern counties on the Department of Tourism's Snow Conditions Report (exit DNR). Most state park and forest properties are reporting that cross-country ski grooming is likely over for the season, unless the state receives another big snowfall. Trails in the south are generally in poor condition, and while trails in the north are snow-covered, they have been icy in the mornings and soft and slushy as temperatures warm throughout the day.
State wildlife officials continue to monitor the harsh winter's impact on deer and turkey. They continue to ask the public's help in reporting any dead deer or turkeys to local wildlife biologists. And responding to many hunters' concerns over turkey populations in the north, wildlife officials have announced that they will reduce the number of over-the-counter spring turkey permits available in some northern units.
Northern Wisconsin lakes are still solidly locked in ice, with 22 to 30 inches on most lakes with layers of slush on top, making travel very difficult. Lakes in southern Wisconsin have just begun to show signs of early break-up with some landings and shorelines having open water, especially near inlets and outlets. Wardens are cautioning people against driving any vehicles on river systems as they are also beginning to open up.
Ice fishing pressure has been pretty non-existent in the north, but this week's warm weather did trigger some good panfish action on southern and central Wisconsin lakes. The milder weather brought out more anglers last weekend on Green Bay, where anglers continue to fish though deep ice with success for whitefish and northern pike reported along the east and west shore. There is some more open water in southeastern Lake Michigan harbors, but most are still locked in ice and anglers continue to catch brown and rainbow trout through the ice.
Raccoon, skunk, muskrat, mink, and opossum activity has increased as temperatures are increasing and snow is receding. River otter sign along creeks and streams may be more evident this time of year as male otters increase their movements during the March to April breeding season. Fox and gray squirrels are feeding furiously on nuts and seeds that have remained buried all winter under snow and ice, and males are actively pursuing females.
The spring bird migration is off to a tempered start with arrival of small numbers of sandhill cranes, red-winged blackbirds, and American robins in the south. Waterfowl rank among the earliest migrants and a good diversity of birds are now on the move. However, this winter's extensive ice cover continues to take a toll on many diving ducks as numerous dead birds are showing up along the Lake Michigan shoreline as ice recedes.
Statewide Birding Report
Spring migration is off to a tempered start with arrival of small numbers of sandhill cranes, red-winged blackbirds, and American robins in the south. Horned larks are being reported in good numbers, occasionally mixing with migrant snow buntings and Lapland longspurs on their way north. Other arrivals include Eastern meadowlarks, killdeer, great blue herons, rusty blackbirds, northern flickers, and purple finches, though most are limited to the southern half of the state and are still in below-average numbers for this time of year. Waterfowl rank among the earliest migrants and a good diversity of birds are now on the move where open water can be found. However, this winter's extensive ice cover continues to take a toll on many diving ducks as numerous birds have been found dead in Lake Michigan counties. Most if not all of these birds appear to have starved because adequate food resources could not be reached. Some birds have also been found injured or stranded inland, having mistaken wet roads or other dark surfaces for water in their desperate attempt to find suitable habitat. Ice melt this past week may somewhat alleviate the problem but expect additional carcasses to surface for weeks ahead. If you find a stranded/sick/emaciated bird contact your local DNR office or wildlife rehabilitator. Elsewhere, some snowy owls are finally headed north. Many remain in the state, however, and chances of seeing one are still good through the end of the month. Great horned owls are laying eggs across south and central Wisconsin, red-tailed hawks are paired up, and northern saw-whet owls have begun their distinctive tooting call statewide. Expect a big influx of waterfowl, bald eagles, American woodcock, sandhill cranes, blackbirds, robins, and other short-distance migrants with each passing warm front. This is a great time to be a birder - get out there and enjoy the spectacle! And be sure to help us track the migration by reporting your sightings at www.ebird.org/wi.