Wisconsin weather forecasters are getting a work out early in the year. Rain and snow. Wind and calm. Warm and cold. Wisconsin weather has once again run the gambit in the last week, impacting ski and snowmobile trials, along with ice fishing conditions.

Some trials are slushy and many waters are murky, but one thing is clear as we begin the second half of the shortest calendar month – spring is inching closer. The days are getting longer. Birds, including chickadees, have noticed the sun is rising a minute a little earlier and setting a little later each day. They are singing more, eagles are soaring in their search for food and mates, turkeys are on the move, coyotes too.

Despite recent rain, many trails, both ski and snowmobile, are in good to excellent condition across the northern half of the state, and could get better if predicted snow falls. Buckhorn and Copper Falls state parks, along Flambeau River State Forest are among those reporting good skiing. Snowmobile trails are closed throughout the southern half of the state and cross-country ski conditions are marginal, with many trails icy.

Fishing success, like the weather, has been mixed. Ice depths continue to hold in the 15-17 inch range on most Northwoods lakes and there is now about 8-10 inches of snow on the ice cover. With the difficult travel conditions on the ice, fishing pressure has been relatively light, with a few panfish and walleye anglers venturing out. Panfish have provided the most consistent action and a few anglers have reported some decent catches of bluegill, perch and crappie. Some nice panfish have been caught in Shawano County and some on the small size in Grant County. In Milwaukee ice anglers have been fishing the harbors at McKinley Marina and South Shore Park, as well as the lagoon at Lakeshore State Park. Water clarity has been relatively poor, and success has been hit-or-miss for brown trout and steelhead.

Anglers interested in panfish can catch one of the nearly 30 panfish plan meetings statewide February and March. The public meetings mark the opening phases of efforts by DNR fisheries management to better connect with anglers in Wisconsin. Those attending meetings will be asked to fill out a short questionnaire to help DNR understand their concerns, issues and priorities for panfish. The questionnaire and background materials presented at the meeting are available online.

The upriver lakes sturgeon season closed this week, but the Winnebago sturgeon season remains open, where poor water clarity has slowed the harvest and set the table for spearers to have the full 16-days to get their fish.

Nine of the top 10 fish in the record books were taken between 2004 and 2013, including the 80-inch, 179-pound fish harvested on opening day, which is the sixth largest fish reported. Photos of other top 10 fish and more on sturgeon growth patterns are found on DNR’s Record Sturgeon feature Web page.

Coyotes across the state from Columbia and Grant counties to Crex Meadows and Theresa Marsh state wildlife areas are increasingly active as their breeding season has begun. In Polk County, pheasants and turkeys have seen in picked corn fields throughout the county. In Rib Mountain State Park, deer, turkeys and woodchucks can be seen.

The annual Great Backyard Bird Count, sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, www.birdsource.org/gbbc, begins this weekend. Birders are encouraged to head out this weekend to record birds seen in their yards and local parks.

Image courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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