Winter Comes Early by Gary A. Engberg 12-18-2013

   It’s hard to predict what the rest of winter will bring to Wisconsin, but the Wisconsin-River-WINTER1winter of 2013-2014 has started out as a very cold one to say the least! The month of November was below normal temperature wise with the average temperature being well below the November average. Now, we’re half way into December and the temperatures are still well below normal. The other day, I looked at what the average temperature was for this day in December. The Wisconsin State Journal said that the day’s average was a high of 30 degrees and a low of 20 degrees. But, the high that day was 12 degrees and the low was in the single didgets and that basically was how the winter has gone thus far with little snow (so far), but temperatures way below normal since November.

    I try not to get involved with those who preach and chatter about global Eagle2 Spillane Eagle Islandwarming. It’s not that I don’t believe that there is climate change going on with many extremes at both ends of the weather spectrum. But, an average person doesn’t know who or what to believe because everyone talking has an agenda or “talking points” to strengthen their position. What I see is scientists and experts going overboard to solidify their points and positions. We have to continually try to find the truth somewhere between what both groups are saying to us. It’s getting to where one doesn’t know who to believe or what’s happening to our country and the world in the weather and its climate.

   Eagle2PC Here are some of the happenings that I’ve see this winter. The overall temperature is much colder than what we’ve had the last few winters, but snowfall has been below average. The eagles, ducks, geese, and birds that winter in the Sauk Prairie area are here much earlier and in greater numbers than recent winters. Two weeks ago, I did the first eagle count for the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council and on the afternoon of December 1st we counted 5 eagles at our Sugarloaf counting location on the east side of the Wisconsin River just outside of Sauk City and Prairie du Sac. Yesterday was the second eagle count by the FBEC and the volunteers counted over 40 eagles roosting in just one of 10 different locations which are monitored. That shows what the frigid weather does with a large migration of eagles that winter in the Sauk Prairie area because it has such great eagle and waterfowl habitat with the Wisconsin River staying open year-round allowing eagles and diving waterfowl to feed on gizzard shad and other fish species that inhabit the river. A vast majority of an eagle’s diet is fish and with an abundant supply of fish, open water, and deep, secluded valleys for roosting has made this area a winter home for many eagles, ducks, geese, and song birds.

    Despite the open water and good supply of fish, I still hope that many of you Cardinal-Winter-Smallwill spend a few dollars and feed the birds in your area and yard. Birds when fed will learn to depend on your feedings, so if you start feeding birds keep doing it throughout the winter and don’t let those feeders get empty. Feeding birds isn’t cheap these days, but if you can afford it then do it because it will bring many hours of joy and happiness to you. The cold weather brought many bird and waterfowl species to the area like goldeneyes, buffleheads, mergansers, hawks, and owls. This year, I have the normal juncos, pine sisterns, finches, morning doves, blue jays, woodpeckers, wrens, and sparrows. But, for some reason I don’t have the large number of cardinals that usually are the first and last at my feeders. I can’t figure this decrease in one of winter’s most beautiful birds.

      Ice fishermen are very happy with the early cold weather because now most Bluegill-Dave-Carlson-Smallarea lakes, ponds, and river backwaters are frozen. Big Lake Mendota is still open, but it will freeze early too. There’s been winters when Lake Mendota barely freezes. The lagoons and ponds around Lake Mendota are being fished (Spring Harbor, Marshall Park, the Triangle, Cherokee Marsh) are all being fished with good results for bluegills and crappies. The “Fingers” near Harmony Grove are producing, Gallus Slough is good. And many of the waters off the Wisconsin River like Rainbow, Jones, and Erfurth Sloughs are producing bluegills and pike. If this cold weather continues then anglers will be fishing most if not all waters before Christmas which is weeks ahead of normal. If ice fishing, make sure to practice safety at all times. A bluegill isn’t worth a disaster!

   Deer-Sandy-No-Hunting-small  This past weekend was a four day statewide antlerless deer hunt in Wisconsin. The temperature was cold, but hunters seemed to be out in good numbers in Dane, Columbia, and Sauk Counties and harvesting a good number of deer. I checked some public grounds near home and there were good (photo by Sandy Ellarson) numbers of hunters trying for another deer or their first one. The opening weekend of the deer gun season was brutally cold as was most of the season. The weather kept hunters out of the woods more that normally and reduced the harvest. The other night I went out to look for deer around 5:00 pm and found fields full of deer east of the river. Deer become nocturnal quickly when hunters appear in their “living rooms” and change their habits quickly for survival. Bow hunters can hunt into January and there is another CWD Holiday Hunt from December 24 2013 to January 5, 2014 for those who want another deer.

      This past week was the last stocking of pheasants by the DNR. I was out with some friends and we saw birds in most areas where we hunted. Hunters are happy with the additional pheasants raised this season and hope that it will Pheasantcontinue in the future. The hunters who are hunting the thickest cover and out of the easy walking locations are finding pheasants. The birds out there now are learning fast that noise and hunters are things to avoid and mean trouble. But, take you dog, dress warm, and walk the ditches and edges for late season pheasants. There are still pheasants for the hard working and serious hunter if they work at it and aren’t afraid of walking a few miles.

     December has brought good ice fishing, a continuation of bow hunting, another week of goose hunting, and a Holiday Deer Hunt. So, one can see that there is still many things to do in the outdoors into the New Year. Dress right in good products in layers, use your head and be safe, and you can still have weeks and weeks of fishing and hunting. Take advantage of the great opportunities we have in both fishing and hunting in the winter. Plus, remember to feed the birds because they need help too. I just wish that things would moderate some so I don’t have to keep worrying about my pipes freezing!   

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