River Currents

by Free Speech on January 28, 2009

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

by Gary Engberg

©2009 Gary Engberg Outdoors

Lately, it’s been difficult to talk about anything but the cold weather. Last week felt great with the moderating temperatures that blessed us for a few days! I was out ice fishing locally on Crystal Lake and it was so nice that you could even have your coat open and your gloves off. I’ll tell you a little more about that later in this column, but first I want to relate what a great day I had this past Sunday viewing wildlife around my Wisconsin River home and the Sauk, Columbia, and Dane Counties. The lower gas prices are allowing me to do my normal rural traveling looking for wildlife and taking photos. When gasoline was over $4.00 per gallon I couldn’t afford to drive as much.

Sunday morning, I was filling by bird feeders as I always do every morning and was amazed at the amount of feed that the birds are going through during this winter’s cold weather. I always try to encourage you readers to feed the birds because birds always need a “little” extra help during the extreme cold of winter. After filling the feeders, I went inside and was working at my computer which faces the river and a couple of my larger feeders. The birds must have been waiting for me because as a looked out at the dozens of doves, blue jays, cardinals, finches, juncos, woodpeckers, and other winter visitors were already feeding. Suddenly, a Sharp-shinned Hawk darted toward a feeder flushing all the birds and chasing a cardinal through the bushes and trees. To my surprise and sadness, the hawk caught the cardinal and took off with the brightly colored bird. But, this is the law of nature and hawks must eat too.

I have had hawks come to prey on the birds that I feed in the past, but it usually is only during periods of extreme cold and snow. The two species of hawks that seem to periodically raise havoc is the Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawk. Though, these hawks are very similar in appearance there are a few field marks that differentiate these two raptors. In adult hawks, the Cooper’s hawk is larger, the long tail is rounded at the tip, the legs are long and pencil-like, and the head appears large when compared to the body. The Sharp-shinned hawk is usually smaller, has a long tail that is square at the tip, the legs are shorter and thicker, and the head appears small when compared to the body. But, it is possible to confuse the two especially when not mature and in flight. When doing the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council eagle count on Sunday afternoon, I talked with Professor Tim Moermond, a top-notch ornithology expert from the University of Wisconsin and he confirmed that both Sharp-skinned and Cooper’s hawks will come to bird feeders during extreme times and do look similar.

Sunday afternoon, Professor Moermond, Donna and Bill Stehling, and I were out counting eagles going to roost for a Ferry Bluff Eagle Council research project. The roost location that we were at was Sugerloaf which is on the east side of the Wisconsin River on the Columbia county side and near the high bluff area that borders the river. The eagle count the last two weeks has been down at this location from what it was earlier in the winter. We counted 7 eagles and 5 roosted where we could see this afternoon.

During winter, eagles move around and as the river freezes they will migrate toward open water where there are fish which is their main food in this area. Much of the Wisconsin River is frozen again, so it would be easy for eagles to fly to the Mississippi River area or even the Illinois River while searching for food. The same thing can be said for the Canadian geese and morning doves that have been staying around most winters in the last decade, but are also moving south this winter mainly for more food. There still are some geese and doves in the area, but many have flown south.

While standing and waiting for eagles to count, we saw many other kinds of birds (woodpeckers, cardinals, juncos, finches, red-tail hawks, jays, doves, and wild turkeys) and even deer. My point is that the local outdoors is teeming with wildlife for all to see and photograph. Though the temperature was in the single didgets, the outdoors was beautiful with so much for people and children to see and enjoy. This is so much better than sitting at home watching television. Dress warm in layers and enjoy the outdoors all year long because there are always the wonders of nature to view.

Crystal Lake has been one of the better lakes in the area this winter for ice fishing. The most active fish have been bluegills that have been very active till this past weekend when things got tougher. I’ve been having success in water 12 to 14 feet deep that have some weed growth on the bottom. Try using 3 pound Berkley ice line on your spinning reel and then attach a small barrel swivel to the line. Then, attach about 2 more feet of line to the swivel and your ice jig. The barrel swivel prevents line twist which can make a mess of 3 pound line, just ask me! Try to have a good assortment of ice jigs like Cobras, Maramushka’s, Dots, Teardrops, Rat Finkies, and Easy Prey jigs. Keep changing colors till you find the color of the hour till you stop catching fish and then try another color. Black, purple, and red have been very good this winter.

The new color electronic ice units from Lowrance and Vexilar make ice fishing simpler. You can see your ice jig and the bottom in color and see the fish come up to your bait. I like to let my jig hit the bottom and bounce it a few times and then keep raising it slowly till you get a strike. I’ve been using wax worms, but spikes and plastics work on any given day. The bluegills are mainly between 7 and 8 inches and some sorting is necessary for a few meals. But, the ‘gills are thicker and the 8 inch fish are worth cleaning and you know how good fresh bluegills are! The ice is close to 20 inches and driving on the lake is safe. Always go to www.garyengbergoutdoors.com for the latest outdoor information and photos.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Doug February 3, 2009 at 4:09 PM

Good column, Gary. And nice to see you in the LVN. I think Nski has a great idea here. Good luck !!

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