It has been about 20 years since whitetail deer have had to cope with a winter exactly like 2018-19 in southern Wisconsin. Mild December and January weather turned nasty in February and March.
While Winter Severity Indexes are no longer recorded for southern Wisconsin, the system of a point for each below zero day and each 18 or more inches of snow would likely have pushed the number near the severe category.
Extreme cold spells and periodic major snowfalls have taken away many deer food sources, so animals have turned to evergreens, and not just white and red cedars and white pines. Other less palatable species, including red, ponderosa, even jack pines, other ornamental cedars and cypress, white spruce, Norway spruce and Douglas fir have all been fed upon.
Balsam and Frasier firs have been spared in some regions where other evergreen conifers are plentiful.
Unfortunately these evergreens do not fill in as most deciduous trees and shrubs do when the terminal buds are clipped. Homeowners are advised to assess the damage during early summer before determining the best course for the plant.
Fall fencing would have been an option, but now sheeting the basal portions of the plants works in some cases and attaching a shiny aluminum can help, too.
Not all winter impacts were loses, however. Dan Storm, a Department of Natural Resources deer biologist, who is directing portions of the Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer and Predator Study, and his two crews, have had one of the best trapping years since the project initiated during the 2016-2017 winter in Dane, Grant and Iowa counties.
“While it has been rough down there, we’ve done really well net-trapping compared to the first two years,” Storm said. “It’s been great for capture, but not for the deer finding food.”
Each year Storm’s crews have a goal of 200 adult deer captured, 100 males and 100 females. The crews are about out of doe collars and will be switching to concentrating on bucks, as long as trapping conditions are favorable.
“While adult deer seem to be in reasonably good condition, some of the younger deer are a bit skinny,” Storm explained.
Success of the project rests with having great crew workers, too. Wes Ellarson and Dana Jarosinski, two lead crew members, were recently awarded employees of the year by the DNR’s Office of Applied Science.
While the deer are struggling to maintain themselves, predators and scavengers are finding food in spite of the snow.
Resident bald eagles are sitting on 1-3 eggs that will begin hatching 36 days after laying. The sitting adult may be difficult to detect, as it sits very low in the nest. Males (smaller) and females (larger than males) incubate and bring food to the nest.
A rural mail carrier witnessed an adult bald eagle capture a large wild turkey last week. Ron Berg wishes he had had a dash camera to record the event.
Migrant birds are returning in spite of snow-covered ground.
Red-winged blackbirds (the female is brown), sandhill cranes, American robins and even a few woodcocks and snipes have been reported.
Trout anglers are few, but some are still venturing through snow to coax a brown or brook trout in water warmed by springs. As rain, melting snow and runoff returns, look for anglers to fish earlier in the day before the water cools.
Coyotes are plentiful, sometimes fighting to keep pairs from avoiding three’s a crowd.
Turkeys have been reported shadow boxing basement window and then returning to pick grains under bird feeders.
Watch for maple sap to renew flowing as warmer days and more sun fill forecasts.
Make note of calendar spring, the same day as the worm full moon appears. It’s a super moon, too.
Spring is approaching as running water, a few green plants and robins dot the yards and fields.