Melting into Spring


Spring in Winnebago County can be wet, raw, snowy, rainy, and some say borrring… with spring break looming and daylight savings time springing forward, here’s some ideas for celebrating the melting away of winter and the official start of Spring.

Daylight Savings Time begins March 11. What will you do with your extra minutes of daylight at the end of the day? Finally get outside and do a little New Year’s resolution resurrecting by actually walking, biking or jogging after work or school? The WIOUWASH and Mascoutin Trails are open year ’round and though they may be a little sloppy this time of year the fresh air can be worth the damp socks. Spring means that wildlife begin to wake up from their long winter sleep. You never know who you’ll meet at the Waukau Creek, or Lasley Point Nature Preserves or along the recreation trails. Some migrating birds also begin to appear, returning from their southern ‘vacations’ especially the real ‘early birds’ – ducks and geese. While taking advantage of the extra hours of daylight with a nature walk you may encounter some of these early arrivals. Who may be here and awake? Depending on the average temperatures all of the following creatures could be waking up or arriving from the south as early as mid-March. Here’s a little bit about who you might run into and their hibernation habits.

Deer mice have short lives and short light hibernation periods. During cold weather, they hibernate from morning to late afternoon bundled up with their buddies and then spend the night searching for food.

During the cold winter months, skunks get comfortable in their dens and hibernate with their close family. During their few months of hibernation, they occasionally wake up and come out to get something to eat.

Bats go into a true hibernation, meaning they are in such a deep sleep that they may appear to be dead. During hibernation, a bat’s heart rate drops from 400 to 25 beats per minute, and its breathing slows so much that it might not take a breath for up to an hour. Bats hibernate in the cavities of large trees, caves, old mine shafts, old wells, and even in people’s attics. Depending on the species of bat, it either hibernates alone or in a group.

If you saw a frozen frog that had ice crystals on it, that wasn’t breathing and didn’t have a heartbeat, you would probably think it was dead. If it was a wood frog, it would most likely be in hibernation. Wood frogs hibernate inside logs or burrows or under rocks or leaf piles. During the cold months of winter, during hibernation, they stop breathing, their heart stops beating and ice crystals form in their blood. When the warm weather returns, they defrost, and their lungs and heart return to normal mode.

Black bears are often the first animals people associate with hibernation. Bears can be light hibernators. Instead of hibernating, bears go into what is called a torpor. The main difference between a torpor and a hibernation is that during a torpor the animal is easily awoken. So tread lightly near that bear’s den; it will wake up. Bears go into a torpor during the winter months only if they live in cold areas. During their torpor, they don’t eat or drink for about 6 months on average. OK, you probably won’t meet a bear in Winnebago County but just in case…

Chipmunks are the smallest member of the squirrel family. Essentially tiny tree squirrels that live underground, chipmunks don’t sleep all the way through winter. They don’t store fat and therefore can’t sleep through the whole season so they sleep in spurts, waking up every few days to eat from their store and take care of themselves. That makes them super early risers. They even mate as early as February.

Many birds must make the 600mile nonstop trip across the Gulf of Mexico to get here. They include such jewels as the rubythroated hummingbird, scarlet tanager and indigo bunting. Waterfowl like bluewinged teal and waders like spotted sandpiper also migrate over or around the Gulf on their way back to Wisconsin. Ducks and geese are among the earliest of Wisconsin’s spring migrants, and their numbers can be impressive. Wisconsin’s Green Bay is one of the largest freshwater estuaries in the world and is critical habitat for migrating waterfowl particularly the diving ducks like greater and lesser scaup and redheads, bufflehead, redbreasted merganser and goldeneye which are just some of the ducks that visit this area in March and April. Among the earliest grassland songbirds to arrive in the state are eastern meadowlarks. Grassland birds that arrive later in the spring include bobolink, dickcissel and upland sandpiper.

You may not see all of these creatures while out and about in Winnebago County Parks but once Spring and warm weather finally arrive they will be out and about as well.

Speaking of wildlife, keep an eye out for ‘Stan’. He’ll be on a mission for the next few months within the Winnebago County Parks System and if you see him snap a photo and send it to the Winnebago County Parks & Sunnyview Expo Center Facebook page to win some cool swag. Clues as to ‘Stan’s’ whereabouts are broadcast on all area Cumulus Broadcasting radio stations.

Spring also means ‘ice out’ on the Winnebago Lakes System. Get your boat launch parking permit and be ready for the first runs of the season.  You don’t have to wait until March 31 any more, as permits are available now and can be purchased at the Winnebago County Parks Office, Festival Foods, Citgo Lakeshore Mart and Fish Tales. For vendor address locations and more info go to

Lest we get ahead of ourselves there can still be snow outside in early Spring so attending events inside is more enjoyable for some. At Sunnyview Expo Center this month, the N.E.W. Sport Fishin’ Expo takes place the 2nd through 4th and there’s a 4H Tack Sale on March 10th.

Whatever the weather, we’ve got you covered. Get on out and meet some wildlife, go ‘Stan Spotting’ or attend an expo event. The Spring melt is just around the corner and we hope you spend it picturing yourself in Winnebago County Parks and Sunnyview Expo Center.


About Author

Vicky Redlin

Winnebago County Parks & Sunnyview Expo Center Program Manager, Parks News editor, and frequent Facebook commentator.

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