Article by Jim Ray, Pantex Wildlife Biologist/Scientist
Pantexans are quite familiar with the bird nests made of mud that adorn our buildings each spring and summer. You may even have these on your house, whether you live in town or in the country. The nests that are most numerous are made by swallows, although the Say’s phoebe and American robin also construct a nest made largely of mud, which also commonly occur on buildings and other structures.
At Pantex, two species of swallows are present during the nesting season: the barn swallow and the cliff swallow. Swallows are very beneficial birds, consuming a diet that includes a wide variety of flying insects. No, they are not going to wipe out mosquitoes in your neighborhood, but you can be sure that they are going to eat insects from sunrise to sunset.
The barn swallow is blue on top and has a rust-colored breast. It has a characteristic deeply-forked tail. Barn swallow pairs nest alone or in small, loosely-situated colonies. Its nests are bowl or cup shaped, and its interior is lined with grasses and then white feathers. Formerly a cave nester, the barn swallow now nests under eaves, on porches, in abandoned buildings, under bridges and in culverts. At Pantex, I’ve even seen them nest under a utility box erected on a post. Barn swallows incubate four to six eggs at a time, and usually raise two broods per year, rarely three.
The cliff swallow has a dark chestnut and blackish throat and a pale forehead. However, its square tail, buff-colored rump, colonial nesting habitat and gourd-shaped nest easily differentiate it from the barn swallow. This is the swallow of Capistrano! Formerly, this species was confined largely to overhangs on cliff faces, but now is also adapted to nest on the sides of buildings and under bridges and other protective “canopies.” Like the barn swallow, its nest is comprised of pellets of mud, but access to the nest is limited to a small entrance hole and short tunnel. The nest interior is lined with grass, feathers and hair, and contains two to six eggs at a time. Normally, only one brood is raised per year, rarely two. A colony of these birds may number in the hundreds, with nests crowded against each other.
By the way, many Panhandle residents erroneously refer to these two swallows as Purple Martins. Actually, the Purple Martin is in the swallow family, but is twice the size of either the cliff or barn swallow. East of the Rocky Mountains, if you see a Purple Martin nesting in any situation, but within the cavities of a man-made bird house/gourd, you have either made an error in identification or someone is going to get a note published in the literature! That is how rare and newsworthy such an observation would be! Unlike with cliff and barn swallows, where males and females resemble each other in coloration, the two sexes of Purple Martins differ in coloration. Only the after-second-year male is all blue black (approaching purple) in coloration.
Swallows are extremely valuable birds. For the most part, Pantex loves the service that these birds provide in terms of insect control. However, their nesting in certain situations is often despised due to the mess they can create. Normally, by the time they are really messy, the young are about ready to leave the nest. This is because they have grown into such “consumers” that waste cannot be hauled away fast enough by the parents, as is the case when the young are small. A sky-blue paint used under the eaves and porches at Pantex is showing promise of encouraging the birds to nest elsewhere. In theory, it gives the birds the feeling that there is not a protective overhang under which they could attach their nests. The jury is still out on this technique, but its use appears to be successful. The goal is that they will choose a place that is good for the birds and Pantexans alike.
A Pantexan applies sky-blue paint to ward away barn and cliff swallows from placing their nests under the overhang of the building.
Pantexans are well known for their generosity and going “above and beyond” to help out in their communities and that spirit of giving was never more prevalent than at the recent Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) Bowl For Kid’s Sake. Besides Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC being a corporate sponsor for this year’s fundraiser, Pantex employees filled lane after lane with bowlers to help raise money and awareness for the mentoring program.
It’s an all-day event with teams coming and going at Western Bowl for bowling fun and bringing in sponsorships that go directly to the BBBS organization, which serves more than 250 young men and women in the Amarillo and Canyon area. Along with those successfully matched, at any one time, BBBS may have up to 150 little brothers and sisters on their waiting list, usually from single parent homes where a young man or woman might not get the one-on-one time with an adult that they need.
At absolutely no cost to the parent, the children, or “Littles” are signed up and then matched up with a “Big” who agrees to spend a few hours a week with their match. Their mission is to help children reach their full potential through professionally supported, one-to-one mentoring relationships. Through fund-raising efforts like Bowl for Kids’ Sake, they are able to keep the program up and running. It’s a huge undertaking for the staff at BBBS, but the rewards are worth every minute spent in fundraising.
“Bowl For Kids’ Sake is one of our agency’s largest fundraisers and accounts for over 30% of our annual budget. Proceeds from the event are dedicated to program costs that directly affect the lives of the children we serve. We are able to help more than 250 children participating in our programs, thanks to our Bowl For Kids’ Sake sponsors,” said Emily Shelton Nance, executive director, BBBS of the Texas Panhandle.
Pantex employees always make up one of the largest groups to be represented with multiple teams being the norm, rather than the exception. Having the site so highly represented is also something that BBBS never takes for granted, and is very thankful for when it comes time each year to let the bowlers roll a pair of games.
“Pantex has been a cherished supporter of Bowl For Kids’ Sake. In the last nine years, more than 147 teams have participated in Bowl and provided needed funding to serve virtually hundreds of children living in our community,” added Nance.
BBBS is planning new and diverse forms of fundraising through the coming months, but it’s a sure bet that Bowl for Kids’ Sake will continue on as usual, with a great feeling of accomplishment from everyone involved, including the Pantexans who will once again takes to the lanes to make a big difference and have a little fun for some “Bigs” and “Littles” who are the real winners.
While they are extremely dedicated to accomplishing the important mission of the Plant, Pantexans sure don’t mind a little friendly competition. They recently participated in a Push-Up Challenge as part of the ongoing Active for Life Challenge, a 10-week American Cancer Society program to encourage employees to be more active and eat healthier foods. During the event Pantexans completed a total of 5366 push-ups and each of the 144 participants received 100 bonus points to contribute to their respective team scores.
The 25 Pantex teams are competing against each other and against teams at Y-12 National Security Complex and other DOE facilities.
The winner of the men’s competition, Geoffry Evans, completed 127 push-ups in two minutes wearing a dress shirt, slacks and a tie. Julie Herman and Savannah Gates tied the women’s competition by completing 100 push-ups each in two minutes. Many of the participants set a personal record.
It is an annual passage of Spring in the Panhandle of Texas; trees blooming, grass greening up and members from Leadership Amarillo & Canyon making their way out to the Pantex plant northeast of Amarillo for their yearly tour of the facility.
This professional group, founded about 35 years ago is built on the strength of community leaders and business people who want to learn more about what’s happening in their own collective backyards. Designed to introduce leadership development, networking, community awareness and social consciousness to anyone wanting to make an impact in their community; they meet 10 months out of the year, experiencing a variety of businesses and industries while interacting with civic, business and non-profit agencies across the region.
This year, the group of close to 50 made its way to the main entrance building where they were greeted by Pantex Site Manager Michelle Reichert who offered up a Q&A session.
During lunch, they were introduced to Pantex Plant Agronomist Monty Schoenhals who gave an intriguing presentation on the storied history and timeline of the site. For those in attendance like Canyon City Manager, Randy Criswell, this is a rare opportunity to visit one of the area’s largest employers.
“One of the best things about this program is everything you get to see and be a part of… the familiarity with businesses and especially places like Pantex.”
After lunch the group was escorted around the perimeter of the plant along with the opportunity to get an up-close view of some of the security vehicles on one of their stops.
Then, to wrap up their day, the visitors were taken to a test firing site to experience first-hand what it looks, sounds — and feels like — to witness a planned test shot with high explosives or HE. Judging by the reaction of the crowd, it was a big hit, as was the entire tour.
Leadership Amarillo & Canyon members say they now have a better understanding of the mission here at Pantex.
“This leadership program is very diverse. It’s unique to be able to come to a place like this (Pantex) and see everything that we’re being shown. It’s something that ‘John Q Citizen’ will probably never get to see for themselves,” said Criswell.
Plans are already in the works for Leadership Amarillo & Canyon to visit Pantex again in 2016 with a new group of area leaders wanting to gain a better understanding of local businesses in the area.
The current Sandia Weapons Intern Program (WIP) class recently visited NNSA’s Pantex Plant as part of the six-month program curriculum. While at Pantex, participants visited several operational facilities such as training bays, pit staging sites and firing sites. Currently there are approximately 24 participants in the WIP from various labs and sites across NNSA.
Since the program’s inception, more than 300 individuals from the nation’s weapons community have gone through the program. Through a combination of classroom study taught by active and retired weaponeers, site visits, and individual and team projects, weapon interns have honed their skills, broadened their knowledge base, and expanded their network of colleagues in the nuclear weapons community.