Gary Engberg/For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com
Itís hard to predict what the rest of winter will bring to Wisconsin, but the winter of 2013-2014 has started out as a very cold one to say the least!
The month of November had below-normal temperatures with an average for the month well below the norm. Now, weíre halfway into December and the temperatures are still low.
The other day, I looked at what the average temperature was for this day in December. The Wisconsin State Journal said that the dayís 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 digets. This is how the winter has gone so far in southern Wisconsin with little snow, so far, but with cold temperatures.
I try not to get involved with those who preach and chatter about global warming. Itís not that I donít believe that there is climate change going on with many extremes at both ends of the weather spectrum. I believe the average person doesnít know who or what to believe because everyone talking has an agenda or 'talking points' to strengthen their position. What I often see are scientists and experts going overboard to solidify their points and positions. We have to try to find the truth somewhere between what both groups are preaching. Itís tough to know who and what to believe when it comes to the weather and the climate.
Here's what Iíve see this winter.
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 1 we counted five 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. The frigid weather's influence on the migratory pattern of the eagles that winter in the Sauk Prairie area is apparent. Because the area has such great eagle and waterfowl habitat with the Wisconsin River staying open all year allowing eagles and diving waterfowl to feed on gizzard shad and other fish species that inhabit the river.
A majority of an eagleís 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 will 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 donít let those feeders get empty. Feeding birds isnít cheap these days, but if you can afford to do it the activity can 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 donít have the large number of cardinals that usually are the first and last at my feeders. I don't understand this decrease in one of winterís most beautiful birds.
Browse more photos of birds in Wisconsin:
Ice fishermen are very happy with the early cold weather because now most area lakes, ponds and river backwaters are frozen. Big Lake Mendota is still open, but it will freeze early, too. There have been winters when Lake Mendota barely freezes. Fishing is underway on the lagoons and ponds around Lake Mendota (Spring Harbor, Marshall Park, the Triangle, Cherokee Marsh) with good results for bluegills and crappies.
The 'Fingers' near Harmony Grove are producing and Gallus Slough is also 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 isnít worth a disaster!
A four-day statewide antlerless deer hunt was held in Wisconsin earlier this month. 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 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 some hunters out of the woods and reduced the harvest. The other night I went out to look for deer around 5 p.m. 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 for survival.
Bow hunters can hunt into January and there is another CWD Holiday Hunt from December 24 to January 5.
The DNR stocked more pheasants earlier this month. 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 continue 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. Take your 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 arenít 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 are still many things to do in the outdoors into the New Year.
Dress right in layers, use your head and be safe and you can still have weeks and weeks of fishing and hunting. Plus, remember to feed the birds because they need help too.
I just wish that things would moderate some so I donít have to keep worrying about my pipes freezing!
Gary Engberg is a professional tournament angler, fishing guide, and writer. He began fishing tournaments in the early 1990ís and has fished the In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail (PWT), North American Walleye Association (NAWA), Masters Walleye Circuit (MWC), World Walleye Association (WWA), FLW, and Mercury Nationals in the years since. Gary has hosted the Outdoor Horizons radio show weekly for 14 years in Madison on WTDY 1670 AM and WTDY 106.7 FM Saturdays at 8:05 am. and is also a correspondent for the Wisconsin State Journal for the last 12 years. Visit http://www.garyengbergoutdoors.com for more from Gary Engberg.