Emmons Creek Winter Walk

Emmons Creek
Winter scene on Emmon’s Creek in Central Wisconsin.

I like winter, but there comes a time when winter has lost its magic, and I feel it is time to move on with the seasons.  I want to see animal life and green plants.  The winter is rather dull.  Sure, there are some hardy birds around, and a handful of mammals are visible.  The lakes are all frozen over, and fish can be found by drilling a hole in the ice, lowering line and lure, and waiting in the cold for a bite.   There is something about seeing fish in the winter for me that lightens my mood, and there are places to see them.  Rivers, streams, and creeks that are fast-flowing or mostly groundwater-fed can be free of ice all year round.  Such is the case with Emmons Creek as it flows out of Fountain Lake in Portage County, Wisconsin; the lake is groundwater fed, and there are many tiny short streams fed by springs.

Thinking of the creek, I packed up boots, and GoPro Hero 3+ camera mounted on a stick and went in search of aquatic life.  The weather was not supportive:  the temperature was – 7° F and the wind chill -20°.  The sun was out, but it was only helped with the lighting for photography.  I pulled into the parking lot and put on my brand new uninsulated hip boots, grabbed my camera, and headed to the creek.  I walked about 100 yards through deep snow along the creek and stepped in.  My thermometer said the water was 37°F, which on a normal day would seem rather frigid, but my feet were happy the boots were surrounded by temperatures 44 degrees warmer than the air.

As I started my walk in the creek, I scared up a Common Snipe along the bank, and it flew upstream.  Most snipe are long gone.  Snipe feed in moist soil, most of which is frozen in Wisconsin, but here there is some that is always thawed.  Up on the bank were the fresh tracks of a river otter with the telltale belly slide mark with impressions of large webbed feet.  Where the water seeped up through the soil there was green watercress, and in the stream, a few sedges were sending up green shoots despite the subzero temperatures.  During my walk I disturbed many fish; most were tiny thin creatures that were likely darters.  As their name suggests, they dart about when disturbed and quickly hide in the organic debris.  I also saw a few small trout, probably brown trout.  It was too cold to go poking around for insects.  If the air had been as warm as the water I would have brought along a small net and captured a few invertebrates for observation, but today they would have frozen quickly.

The walk was a great change of pace during a long and unusually cold winter, but I look forward to spring!

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