Wintry wallop is good at least for star gazing

DNR REPORT - Temperatures dropped severely over the weekend and everything from a couple inches to almost a foot of powder fell across Wisconsin this week. More snow and cold weather is predicted for this coming weekend. In areas with more than 6 inches of snow, cross-country ski trails were being packed at many state park and forest properties, but so far there has not been enough snow in most locations to set tracks.

Snowmobile trails are opening in the far north and in the far south, where snow depths were greatest, but conditions are generally poor to fair, according to the Department of Tourism Snow Conditions Report. Riders should check with their local clubs or county snowmobile coordinators before venturing out to ensure that trails in their specific area have opened. Snowshoe enthusiasts are also tightening bindings and preparing for some time on the frozen landscape when trails receive a few more inches of snow, which could happen later this week.

While there have now been multiple evenings and several days with below freezing temperatures, ice on state water bodies still has a ways to go. While no ice should be assumed “safe,” the current layer remains especially thin and extreme caution is urged for those avid ice-anglers, itching to get out on top of the water. Use extreme caution when venturing out onto the ice for fishing. Have ice picks handy, wear a floatation or life jacket, and test the ice before walking farther.

Pheasant season remains open through December 31, and archery and crossbow, as well as several small game seasons will continue on into January. That’s good news for those willing to brave the weather, as the recent snowfall has improved tracking considerably.

Prints from everything from rabbit to elk are starting to appear and chart their journeys through the forests and prairies of the state. Bird feeders are logging visits from winter goldfinches, wood peckers and the brazen red and gray squirrels. A marten was seen on a trail camera in Iron County and the least weasel, the state’s smallest carnivore, has just finished its autumn molt and now blends impressively into the white landscape. It’s relative, the ermine, has yet to show its face, but can be distinguished by its larger size and black-tipped tail.

Despite the wintry wallop, snowy owls remain relatively scarce, while short-eared owls, rough-legged hawks, and other winter raptors continue in open grasslands and wetlands rich with rodent prey. Water birds are on the move as ice takes over many of the state’s water bodies. Tundra swans were most notable across the southern half of the state this week and may linger wherever open water remains. Small numbers of Bohemian waxwings, white-winged crossbills, and common redpolls have been found mostly in northern tier counties.

One positive note about the clear cold nights is they have made for wonderful star gazing and for viewing the aptly named full cold moon this past week.


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