Gary Engberg/For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com
Bluegills caught on Crystal Lake. / Gary Engberg/For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com
Earlier this week when I woke up and looked out my window it didnít look so bad with the sun shining off the glistening snow. But, I checked the temperature and it was 22 below zero! I looked out my office window and the Wisconsin River was frozen solid with the exception of a few open spots where you still can see the water flowing down river. The last time that I remember this much ice on the river was (Iím pretty sure) 1996.
My home, as many of you know by now, is on the Lower Wisconsin River about 4 or 5 miles below the Prairie du Sac Dam. I always have open water with the exception of some ice on the shoreline. But, now as I look out on the river all I see is ice and blowing snow. I decided to wait an hour or so to take Katie out and fill the bird feeders.
This is the kind of winter when birds and small animals need some human help to survive the cold of winter. I have over 20 bird feeders around my property and I can easily go through 25 pounds of bird seed in a day. The best overall seed which most birds like is black oil sunflower seed. The price of seed has risen tremendously, but the joy of viewing so many birds and knowing that youíre helping them is well worth the added cost.
If you feed birds donít stop this time of the year because the extreme cold has our winter residents burning up calories to stay warm and survive during this Arctic blast.
The bald eagles that I normally have perched in my shoreline trees have moved closer to the Prairie Dam where the water is open. I havenít left the house today, but on Sunday the water was wide open from the old 'trestles' and the Highway 12 Bridge to the Prairie Dam.
This area has had a huge influx of bald eagles since the second week of December when winter began in earnest. The cold, snow, and lack of open water had pushed the eagles down into southern Wisconsin where there still is open water. This area gets wintering eagles from northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and Canada depending on the winter conditions and food supply.
Now is a fantastic time to visit the Sauk Prairie area and watch and photograph these magnificent birds. Rarely will one see so many eagles in a concentrated area unless youíre in Alaska. The Ferry Bluff Eagle Council is a 'local organization that works hard to protect, enhance, and maintain Bald Eagle habitat in the Sauk Prairie area through education, research, and management activities.'
The Eagle Council counts bald eagles at ten different locations from December 1 until March 1 and keeps track of numbers, mature or immature eagles seen, and other data that is important in keeping this area a prime winter location for the eagles that stay and feed on the riverís fish and roost in the hills and valleys that surround the Wisconsin River.
This winter has been a great one for eagle watching with over 400 eagles at the count a week ago. This coming Sunday is another afternoon of eagle counting and I wouldnít be surprised to see a new record count.
January 17 and 18 is Bald Eagle Days in Sauk City with a Friday night show at the RAC Theatre by The Raptor Center of Minnesota. Theyíll present a live birdís of prey show titled ďRaptors in WisconsinĒ which is well worth seeing. Saturday, the 19th there are childrenís activities, eagle watching bus tours, seminars, presentations, and much more to highlight Americaís national bird. Mark this day on your calendar and bring the children and grandparents to Sauk Prairie for this educational and inspiring day.
Now and through the beginning of March are the prime times to come and watch eagles. They are not hard to find around town because they are now concentrated in a smaller area than during a ďnormalĒ winter. There also is bus tours on Saturdays that will take you around to see the birds.
I was out on Sunday looking for eagles to photograph and to see if there were many anglers or hunters out enjoying a nice winter day. Though, it was the last day of the Holiday Hunt for deer, I didnít see many deer hunters out on this winter day.
The bow hunting season is still open and if the weather stays like this make sure that you dress properly if you plan to be outside. Itís very easy to get frostbite and hypothermia in weather this cold. It can only take a few moments if youíre not properly dressed. The key for anyone whoís fishing, hunting, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, or taking part in any other outdoor activity is to dress properly.
The key is to dress in layers with the layer next to your skin made from a 'wicking' fabric that takes the moisture away from your skin and prevents your chilling. The three main layers are wicking to take any moisture away from your skin and evaporate it, an insulating layer of silk, down, and wool to keep the warmth in, and a protective layer which should protect you from snow and cold.
Most heat is lost through your head, so be sure to wear a good wool hat and maybe a face mask. Mittens are always warmer than gloves and wear a Pac-type boot or a boot that has a high Thinsulate number. I also suggest using the air activated hand warmers which will fit inside your mitten. Dress correctly and youíll be able to be comfortable in most winter extremes.
Iíve given you the proper way to dress in the extreme cold and some activities that will get you out of the house if suffering from cabin fever. Use your head and dress properly and youíll be ready to tackle the cold of winter. One more thing, donít get out of your vehicle to look at or photograph eagles. Use your car or truck as your blind and shoot pictures from inside your vehicle. If you get out of your car itís possible to spook eagles off their perch or roost and force them to burn up calories that they need so much to survive this frigid weather.
Browse more photos of birds in Wisconsin:
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.