12-31-2020 Outdoors

Winter is a great time to search for squirrel dreys. These leafy nests are nestled in tree trunk forks or precariously perched on the end of a branch. They look like huge bird nests. However, bird nests are flat and open at the top while dreys are rounded. Dreys located close to the trunk are “family” dwellings inhabited by females and their young. Males construct their bachelor pads at the end of branches.

A drey, built as a latticework of branches stuffed with dry leaves and lined with soft materials, is a toasty abode. Tom Brown, the famous survivalist and tracker, tells a story of building such a shelter then comfortably spending a 20°F night in it. The round exterior encourages rain to run off, rather than penetrate, the nest.

A single squirrel usually “manages” two to three active nests. He can escape from inevitable parasites, have numerous hiding places from predators, and may be closer to a feeding area.

These shelters don’t provide enough protection during the winter though, so during these times the squirrels will use a tree hollow as protection. Eastern grey squirrels and eastern fox squirrels prefer a hollow high in a hardwood tree and will often use a cavity previously excavated by a woodpecker. Inside, the squirrel arranges a soft, warm nest using shredded bark, leaves, and grasses.

Fishing

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reminds anglers that if they are headed out fishing, please do your part to keep yourself and others safe by following COVID-19 public health and safety guidelines. Go fishing only if you’re feeling well. Practice proper social distancing (at least six feet away from people who don’t live in your household) and keep a face covering handy for when social distancing cannot be maintained. Frequently wash your hands with soap and warm water, or use hand sanitizer.

Very cold temperatures have kept most anglers from open-water fishing. Most are now waiting for ice fishing season to get started. The DNR reminds that there is no safe ice in West Michigan at this time.

There are so many ways to explore Michigan in winter, and during this busy time before the new year, sometimes carving out just a few minutes to get outside – even in your own backyard – can make a big difference in your physical and mental health.

So gear up to get out and give these quick ideas a try: Grab your phone to listen to the DNR’s “Wildtalk” podcast while you take a quick walk outside to enjoy the cold, crisp Michigan air. Though some of our summer bird species migrate south in the winter, others stick around, making for some fun winter birding challenges. Learn more about wintering birds at Michigan.gov/Birding.

Even for long-time northern residents, viewing the Aurora Borealis can remain a bucket list item. This wispy light show is best seen during a clear winter night from late August to early April. Why not make it a goal to chase this year’s Aurora? Bundle up, step out, gaze north and look up. Then head to Michigan.gov/DarkSky for other great celestial happenings! Dowagiac River anglers are reminded that Losenski Park boat access site near the Pucker Street Dam will be closed until further notice due to ongoing construction.

The fish ladders on the St. Joseph River will remain open all winter, but upstream movement of steelhead is low when the water temperature is below 40 degrees. The live fish cam at the Berrien Springs ladder has been shut down and will be up and running again around March 1, 2021.

On the Grand River near Grand Rapids the fish ladder at the 6th Street Dam will remain open all winter. Closer to Grand Haven perch fishing picked up near the bridges at Petty’s Bayou and Smith Bayou. On calm days, anglers heading out for perch from Grand Haven were getting some limit catches. The DNR fishing tip this week is how to fish in the middle of the day. The DNR often emphasizes the best times to go ice fishing are early morning and around dusk – but what about folks who can’t go during those times and would prefer to fish in the middle of the day? There are options for you too!

A few species are ideal midday targets, including northern pike, yellow perch, bluegill, and rainbow and brown trout. For northern pike, you can set up tip-ups and enjoy a leisurely day on the ice. For yellow perch, you can drill a high number of holes and move around frequently. For bluegill, you can use a fish locator to follow around a school. And for rainbow and brown trout, you can sight-fish for them in shallower water.

Visit Michigan.gov/HowToFish for more tips on ice fishing.

Hunting

Many state-designated snowmobile trails in Alcona County are temporarily closed due to safety challenges caused by heavy, wet snow that blanketed the area December 12. Trees and branches, weighed down by the heavy snow, broke and fell onto trails, creating hazardous obstacles. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Huron-Manistee National Forest and Alcona County Parks and Recreation Department have determined that riding conditions are unsafe at this time.

“We ask that snowmobilers respect the closures and allow the grant sponsors to safely clear debris from the county-wide trail system,” said Paige Perry, DNR Parks and Recreation Division trails specialist. “In the meantime, riders are encouraged to ride the region’s other snowmobile trails until Alcona County is re-opened.”

For the latest information on trail and other facility closures, visit Michigan.gov/DNRClosures.

Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its associated necessary limits on social gatherings, the DNR has canceled the annual winter Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) workshop. They are hopeful the summer 2021 BOW workshop will take place on the annual first weekend in June. In addition to the annual summer and winter weekend BOW sessions, several “Beyond BOW” programs – smaller groups with centralized focus – have also been offered on a limited basis for several years, including some outings in the Lower Peninsula.

For the latest BOW news, check it out at the DNR’s BOW webpage at Michigan.gov/BOW. For news about the upcoming BOW Instagram events, follow the BOW program on the platform at Instagram.com/BOW Michigan.

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