Article by Jim Ray, Pantex Wildlife Biologist/Scientist
Every state in the United States has designated a bird species as its state bird. Texas’ is the Northern Mockingbird, Oklahoma’s the Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher, and New Mexico’s is the Greater Roadrunner. Besides Texas, the mockingbird is also claimed by four other states: Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee.
So, what if Pantex were to designate an “official bird” – which bird would it be? We only have 202 to choose from; that’s how many are on our all-time bird list. Well, let’s omit the four species of exotics from consideration. That is the House Sparrow, European Starling, Eurasian Collared Dove, and Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove.) Note that the state of Delaware chose the Blue Hen Chicken, South Dakota chose the Ring - Necked Pheasant, and Rhode Island the Rhode Island Red Chicken as their state bird – all exotics.
There are many good candidates here at Pantex. For example, the American Bald Eagle is a logical candidate because it elicits second glances and conversation when it is observed during its fall through spring stay here in the Panhandle. Its status as our national symbol garners it extra points, as it should.
And how about the Swainson’s Hawk, which is commonly observed here? We are learning so much about them through our collaborative work with West Texas A&M University and the United States Geological Survey (U.S.G.S.) Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Texas Tech University. Data gathered by backpack transmitters is recorded year-round, thus helping us learn how this bird is affected by rapidly expanding wind energy development. Because the units gather and transmit data year-round, we are learning about migration and wintering ecology of these birds. However, the Swainson’s Hawk is likely more numerous around the Plant now, than historically. Nest trees around here are always either an exotic species, or they are in a cottonwood or willow tree that’s existence is enabled by the altered moisture regime of a roadside ditch, pit, supplemented water, or other such situation.
I will argue that we would need to focus our nominations on species that are considered true shortgrass prairie species, one that doesn’t rely on structures built by man. Good candidates are the Horned Lark, Killdeer, and Western Meadowlark. But, there is an additional candidate.
Why not the Western Burrowing Owl? This is a neat little owl that lives in burrows, almost exclusively in our prairie dog colonies. Everybody gets excited when I point one out and even more so when they discover that I can imitate a vocalization they make when securing mates and defending territories. Banding has demonstrated that most of our resident burrowing owls leave Pantex for the winter months; however, a few individuals from points north are usually around in the winter.
We have spent considerable effort studying burrowing owls, much of this through collaboration with Texas Tech University and the U.S.G.S. Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Texas Tech. The little fellow is a species of regional conservation priority (U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service) and a species of international concern. A great representative of an indigenous bird – the Western Burrowing Owl would be my choice as the Official Bird of Pantex.
I asked our Agronomist, Monty Schoenhals, who is an avid birder, what bird would be his choice. His nomination would be the Western Meadowlark. Like the Western Burrowing Owl, the meadowlark is very recognizable, but this shortgrass prairie representative is abundant and can be seen and heard across the property. A good choice, indeed.
What would be your choice?
Photo: Texas Tech Graduate Research Assistant, Erica Chipman, holds a Western Burrowing Owl, as part of fieldwork associated with her M.S. Thesis, Behavioral Ecology of Western Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia hypugaea) in Northwestern Texas (Chipman 2006).
Engineering has always been an in-demand skill at Pantex, and for six years, the Pantex College Pre-hire program has worked well to help meet the need. But the growing demand for employees in other hard-to-fill jobs has meant the program is branching out in a new direction.
Shane Rogers, who has managed the pre-hire program since it started in 2007, just returned from a month-long tour of seven colleges in Texas and New Mexico. In addition to engineers, Rogers was looking for scientists and IT professionals who had important knowledge they could bring to the plant.
“We have had so much success finding and hiring engineers with the pre-hire program that other divisions started to approach us to see if we could help out,” Rogers said. “We’re hopeful that we’ll be just as successful expanding into these new areas.”
This is the first year Rogers looked for computer science (CS) and computer information systems (CIS) majors, in addition to the traditional engineering, math and science majors. The number of high-paying jobs in the IT marketplace makes it extremely difficult to find and recruit people with that skill set.
The pre-hire program reaches out to juniors and seniors who will agree to come to work at Pantex, in exchange for reimbursement of tuition and fees for up to two years. A group of students are interviewed at the schools, then selected candidates are invited to come to Pantex for a second interview and a chance to see some of the work done at the plant. The first semester of the program in 2007, Rogers made offers to six students. This semester, he hopes to make 26 offers.
Recruiters visit a variety of schools proximate to Pantex, including West Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, University of Texas at El Paso, New Mexico State, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and University of New Mexico. Students from as far away as Tennessee and Maryland have been invited for onsite visits following phone interviews.
“The idea is to essentially create a pipeline for students to come to Pantex from schools in our area,” Rogers said. “It benefits them by helping to defray some of the cost of tuition, and it certainly benefits Pantex by recruiting and retaining talented employees.”
Cooking dinner will be a lot easier for about 20 needy families in Amarillo thanks to the generosity of Pantexans, who used a grocery store promotion to secure more than $6,000 of cookware for a local charity.
More than 70 pots and pans were donated to local charities by Pantexans Scott and Lauri Minton, who had been collecting stickers donated by their coworkers. The stickers represent nearly $100,000 in groceries purchased from United Grocery Stores, an area chain that has been giving stickers redeemable for cookware since October.
“I think this really represents the Pantex spirit. As Pantexans, we are always looking for ways to have a positive impact on our communities,” said Lauri Minton.
Lauri Minton said she and her husband started collecting the stickers when they realized they did not need new pots and pans, but that there were people in Amarillo who did. The Mintons spread the word around the plant, and were quickly overwhelmed with the positive response.
As the promotion entered the final days, word spread through social media, and the pace of giving picked up even more.
The pots and pans – over 21 complete sets – were dropped off at Martha’s Home Friday, an Amarillo shelter that provides a place to live for homeless women with children while guiding them toward a lifestyle of self-sufficiency. Several pots and pans were also donated to the Pantex Christmas Project, which has been providing Christmas gifts to needy families for more than 50 years.
Article by Jim Ray, Pantex Wildlife Biologist/Scientist
The U.S. Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration and Pantex eagerly await word on the announcement of the winner of the 2014 Presidential Migratory Bird Federal Stewardship Award. Abstracts for Pantex and the two other national finalists are now posted on the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s web page for the Council for the Conservation of Migratory Birds.
Wouldn't it be something if we won - this the most unlikely place to even be listed for that award! The selection is to be made April 15.
Though some of the faces have changed, there’s one thing that hasn’t. If it’s lunchtime at Pantex, there’s a game of Spades taking place. What started as a way to pass the time in the cafeteria during lunch is a ritual for Andy Marshall, Dale Moon, Jimmy Myers and Kevin Brown, whose job it is to bring the cards.
“It’s fun. I see it as a break in the action of the job. Kinda like recess in elementary school,” said Myers, a technical advisor and 33-year Pantex veteran. Eight hands are played each day with scores recorded in a log book. Why Spades? “It’s easy to play and eat at the same time,” said Myers. “Not much strategy involved.”
Two alternate players, Kenny Steward and Mike Brinson, fill in when needed. On call are Barry Hill, Pablo Reyes, Adam Myers and Ron Wilcox.
“People play until they retire, leave or are unable to play,” explained Myers. “We then usually let the first alternate in the game replace the starter.” At times, players leave Pantex to work elsewhere and then return to the Plant, as is the case for Steward and Brinson. “They are waiting for their chance to be the starting pitcher, rather than a bullpen ace,” said Myers.
There’s not much Kevin Brown, program manager and 18-year Pantex veteran, doesn’t like about the lunchtime card game. “The camaraderie and competition, with a little trash talking, allows us a break from the hectic day, even though for just a short period of time,” he said. “It can be a stress reliever.”
Special rules keep the 40-year-old game interesting. One is that no matter how far behind you are, you can win in the last hand. But serious business it isn’t. “We usually remember everyone’s most ignorant play and then keep reminding them about it later,” said Myers.
Among Myers’ favorite memories is the time then-General Manager Denny Ruddy approached the group to ask what they were playing. “We all thought, well, I guess this game has come to an end. But, he was truly interested and began making fun of how Steward was playing his hands.”