Energizing Your Future

Notes from the field – Discoveries in Wisconsin’s Desert (part 2)

American Transmission Co. environmental project managers traverse hills and countryside monitoring construction activities year-round. They are the eyes and ears in the field, working with contractors to ensure that we demonstrate our environmental commitment.

Our Notes from the Field blog features highlights of what our environmental project managers see while they work on projects throughout our service area. This installment features photos and observations from Michael Warwick, ATC senior environmental project manager.


It was 10 a.m. on May 14 in Western Wisconsin, and I had already encountered a snake species that took me 41 years to first see in the wild. Success!

But was there more to come? Besides timber rattlesnakes, there was at least one additional “lifer” species of snake that I knew inhabited the land I was on, so before I could continue on to my day’s tasks, I sought to peruse the rocky, sparsely grassed, cliff-side environment that provided this species’ preferred habitat. (Note: “lifer” is a term that herpers, birders, and other wildlife enthusiasts use to describe species that they have encountered for the first time in their lives … )

Many snakes use protective cover to stay concealed during the day. It’s their way to avoid predators, as well as to help regulate their body temperatures. Cover can take many forms; old logs, branches, rocks and even man-made debris like old boards, large pieces of sheet metal and other trash. I began gently flipping hillside rocks, and it wasn’t long before I found my second new species of the day, the prairie ringneck.

The prairie ringneck is a diminutive but gorgeously colored, secretive snake that poses no threat unless you are an earthworm or slug, which comprise most of its diet. A most striking feature of this snake is how the yellow on its belly gives way to bright orange, then red as it reaches the tail. When feeling threatened, the ringneck will wind its tail into a corkscrew, exposing the red in an attempt to dissuade predators. In about 10 minutes of rock-flipping on my way to the car, I was lucky to turn up four or five of these beauties, snap a few pics, and carefully replace both the rocks and snakes before moving on.

It was time to be on my way to visit my project sites. After visiting the first project site just down the road to get a feel for the surrounding habitat, I would make my way to an active construction project to observe the removal of protective matting.

As I arrived, I noticed a single mat, a good distance away from the closest transmission structure, floating in the unusual amount of standing water in the area. A casualty of recent spring flooding, it would be retrieved as soon as conditions would allow. For now, however, it was providing the perfect opportunity for about a dozen or so painted turtles to take in the suns rays, at least half of which would scatter before I could snap a photo.

This would prove to be my last animal encounter for the day, as I spent its remainder cruising the project area while noting the incredible progress that was being made from west to east as the line is being rebuilt. It always amazes me how quickly it seems the construction phase of transmission line rebuilds go, given the years of planning and preparation that go into ensuring that everything goes well. In this case, it is apparent that all that preparation was worth the effort. Before long, this project will be complete, and I’ll move on to another one. Until then, I will continue to look forward to the opportunity to visit what I feel to be one of the loveliest parts of this state.

Michael Warwick is a senior environmental project manager at ATC. Prior to joining ATC he worked as an environmental consultant conducting tree and plant surveys, wetland delineation, GIS, project planning, community planning and permitting. He previously worked at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources with a focus on waterway monitoring and studies, and wetland and waterway permit reviews.

Michael earned a Bachelor of Science degree in conservation and environmental sciences from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He is currently certified by Wisconsin DNR as an Endangered Resources Reviewer and is a member of the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee (APLIC) Outreach Committee. He volunteers his time guiding annual natural resources-based educational field trips for the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin