Turtle Monitoring

Placing the bait (sardines) in the turtle monitoring trap.

Late May begins the turtle monitoring season for the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust. I was asked to be in charge of bird and turtle monitoring for the Schoofs Preserve in Washington County, WI. The Schoofs Preserve contains a 1-acre pond which is perfect for turtle monitoring. The purpose is to survey the types of turtles present and to get an idea of population size and structure. Turtle traps consist of 3-hoops covered with netting and an open section on the funnel end (see picture below). Sardines are placed inside to attract the turtles which can get in but not out. Traps are placed in 2-3 feet of water and the top 6-12 inches need to be above water so the caught turtles can breathe. Traps are checked daily for 5-day periods. These sets are done several times until early July.

Turtle Monitoring Trap

Today’s trapping was very successful. I had placed 3 traps on the pond yesterday afternoon and traps #2 and #3 contained 1 snapping turtle and 2 painted turtles each! All turtle species are identified and have their top shell (carapace) measured. Before releasing they have a notch filed into their shell to mark that they have been previously captured. This does not hurt the turtle in any way

Safely holding a snapping turtle by the tail and underside (plastron)

The tricky part is extracting snapping turtles. Their claws are very big (used for burrowing into pond sediment) and their name is an understatement to their biting power. Their neck can reach remarkably far side to side and even to the top back side of their shell. WI has 11 species of turtle with one of those being the land dwelling box turtle. Besides the snapping and painted turtles that were caught, only 3 other species would be anticipated to possibly dwell on the Schoofs Preserve: spiny soft-shell turtle, eastern musk turtle, and blanding’s turtle. Please contact me if interested in helping with or learning more about the monitoring projects. The bird survey of the preserve will begin in June.

Nature Club at St. Gabriel School


Laudato Si’ Project’s Joe Meyer helps teach nature club at St. Gabriel Catholic School in Hubertus, WI. Nature club is an after school program for kindergarten through fifth grade and attempts to give outdoor, experiential nature encounters to students. Over 25 students from St. Gabriel’s came out on a sunny day to learn about habitats and nests.

We started by discussing different habitats and nests for a whole variety of creatures. Students got to touch and pass around a lot of examples. Then we talked about the different bird nests and materials they use in nest construction. Students were thrilled to be able to go out and build their own nests. We ended by playing a game in which students (birds) had to forage and bring the food back to their young in the nest while attempting to not get eaten by the predator. Nature club will resume again in the Fall.

Bird Banding with the Urban Ecology Center

Matt Howenwalter gets a hands-on encounter with a red-winged blackbird. Also pictured is Alex Teske and Jonathon Wallace

Laudato Si’ Project joined Jenn Callaghan of the Urban Ecology Center at Riverside Park, Milwaukee for their spring migratory bird banding. The purpose of migratory bird banding is to collect data on birds that may be only passing through WI on their way to breeding grounds in Canada. Some of the birds caught at these banding stations are also resident birds and important information like breeding health and age is gathered.

The actual band that is placed on the birds is a unique 9-digit number that will be entered into a federal database. If that bird is caught or found anywhere else in the world, it can be traced back the original banding station. This information is crucial for understanding migratory routes, health, and age structure of bird populations.

Putting a band on a red-winged blackbird

The birds are captured using a “mist net” which is a fine black net that is barely visible to the birds. These nets are placed in strategic locations near the banding station and capture birds that are flying from place to place. The bander’s will extract the birds carefully and carry them back to the banding station to collect all the data. After they are banded, they are released.

Woodland Restoration at Schoenstatt Retreat Center

Saturday was a great day for woodland restoration. The temperatures were cool (ok cold and sleeting) but let’s look on the bright side, no mosquitos yet. Quentin Maxwell, Ernie Meyer, and Joe Meyer started cutting buckthorn early Saturday morning at the Schoenstatt Retreat Center in Waukesha. The sister’s own several hundred acres of beautiful rolling hills including agricultural land, marshes, and woodlands.

The woodland we worked in is full of a variety of hardwood tree species like oak, hickory, and cherry. There are many different tree sizes in the woodland including multiple 200+ year-old oaks and hickories. The invasive European buckthorn was interspersed throughout the woodland and removing it allows light to reach the native wildflowers and the next generation of hardwood saplings.

After cutting for several hours, we were joined MUHS students Owen Byrne, Sebastian Pruhs, Max Neimon, and Jacob Baisden. These guys did a great job stacking the buckthorn into piles that will be burned later in the year but for now serve as a haven for wildlife.


Ernie Meyer donated an Aldo Leopold style bench to the sisters that we placed amongst a spectacular Oak Opening. We also began to make a woodland trail that will be accessible to people on retreat who want to meander through the gorgeous woodland. Laudato Si’ Project looks forward to continuing this and many other projects on the Schoenstatt Retreat Center property including more bluebird nest boxes and prairie plantings. After a hard but satisfying few hours of work, the sisters had a nice hot lunch waiting for us in the retreat center to thank us for our work.

Johnson Controls and Sustainability

Glendale, WI

Johnson Controls is a well known WI company that deals with everything from batteries to automated HVAC systems. They employ over 180,000 workers worldwide but it is their campus in Glendale that I want to focus on.

Six of us from MUHS went to visit and tour their buildings to see the various sustainability practices they showcase. Although some of their buildings are from the 1960’s, they have earned LEED Platinum certification on 2 old and 2 new buildings on their campus. If you are unfamiliar, LEED ranking deals with strict sustainability criteria of energy, water, waste, and material use and consumption.

Above are two interesting examples of sustainability. Johnson Controls has solar photovoltaic’s on the ground, rooftop, and for solar hot water. They also do quite a bit for water issues. Above is a picture of the permeable pavers in the parking lot. Water drains through the pavers instead of into a storm drain contributing to large storm overflow discharges by MMSD. The water that percolates through the pavers is instead stored in basins that is used for part of a gray-water system to flush toilets and also to fill water features on site.

The water retention system and native plantings on site


Early May in WI


Edible Morel Mushrooms

Early May in WI brings new life to our region. Even with some nights dipping low into the 30’s, life is springing up everywhere- you just need to what to look for and where to look. Pictured above are some Morel mushrooms. If you are unfamiliar, Morel mushrooms drive thousands of Wisconsinites into the woods in search of these delicacies, which can fetch a hefty price if you want to sell them. These small mushrooms range in size from 1 to 8 inches and continue to evade our ability to cultivate them. Thus you need to search for them in the wild. Your best bet is to look near dead elm trees but of course, it is not only correct identification of trees that you need to be concerned with. Mushroom ID always requires caution.  You can read more about finding, identification, and cooking of morels Here.

The great thing is all the other unexpected things you see and find while out in the woods for looking for Morels. Possibly a deer shed antler from February, warblers migrating through, or even a turkey nest like this one below. My family and I found this nest while on our Morel escapades (not to mention 3 dozen morel mushrooms!!)

Turkey nest
Wild Turkey Nest

And we can’t forget our spring ephemeral flowers. These beauties carpet our forests and do most of their life cycle before the tree leaves come out on the trees and shade them out. Maybe for Mother’s Day this year take your Mom out for a walk through one of Wisconsin’s beautiful forested parks or preserves, you never know what you are going to find.

Growing Power

This weekend we were privileged to be able to tour Growing Power, which is an urban gardening organization based on the north side of Milwaukee. In fact, they are the only site in Milwaukee County still zoned for agriculture. In this day and age of not knowing where your food comes from, students saw first hand the growing process of not only leafy greens, but also, perch, tilapia, goats, and chickens. Growing Power is nationally known and replicated as a way to ensure all people, even those in urban, minority neighborhoods, have access to nutritious vegetables.

The “sifter” which is what sifts the compost soil.


Growing Power sells many vegetables to Pick n’ Save and Sendiks but especially interesting is their aquaponic system to raise leafy greens and perch/tilapia. See below how water from the fish system is run up above through watercress trays fertilizing the plants with the fish waste. These fish are grown to adulthood and sold to various restaurants including Lakefront Brewery. Growing Power makes all their own soil through composting and are experts in growing vertically. It was truly amazing to see how much sustainable, organic production can take place on 2 city acres.

See more at Growing Power’s Website

Feeding the milking goats