Article by Jim Ray, Pantex Wildlife Biologist/Scientist
Hearing a pair of Great Horned Owls calling back and forth recently prompted me to write about the owls we have documented at Pantex. The all-time bird list for the 18,000-acre Pantex Plant includes five species of owls: the Barn, Burrowing, Great-Horned, Long-Eared, and Short-Eared Owl. Although their diet includes more than just rodents, owls play a huge role in helping to keep rodent populations in check. Owls are amazing creatures, with some species being able to hunt in complete darkness and catch prey based on sound alone.
Following is a little information on each of the owl species that have been observed at Pantex:
Barn Owl - This medium size owl’s scientific name, Tyto alba, translates to “white night owl.” This owl is fittingly-named, because it appears “ghostly white” while in flight. It is white on the face, body, and underwings and pale buff and grey on the head, back, and upper wings. Their raspy call can be heard at night as they hunt over open habitats searching, primarily by sound, for small rodents. Barn Owls raise one to three broods per year in cliff, cave, and tree cavities, or in buildings, deer blinds, and other human structures. Several pairs nest every year in buildings and other structures at Pantex.
Burrowing Owl - This small, long-legged owl’s scientific name, Athene cunicularia, translates to “wise one who dwells under the earth.” As its name implies, this brown bird mottled with sand-colored spots nests in holes in the ground. The western subspecies found here in the Great Plains is most often associated with colonies of black-tailed prairie dogs where they will raise a brood each year in a burrow originally dug by prairie dogs. Burrowing Owls are quite common in Pantex prairie dog colonies and have been the subject of several studies in collaboration with Texas Tech University.
Great Horned Owl - This large, thick-bodied owl’s scientific name, Bubo virginianus, translates to “owl of Virginia;” Virginia being where the first Great Horned Owl specimen was collected. As its name implies, this owl has large ear tuffs (feathers). The Great Horned Owl’s coloration is mottled gray brown, and it has a white patch on the throat. However, its coloration varies across its range and includes populations that are more “sooty” (far north) and even “mostly white” (Arctic) in coloration. The Great Horned Owl re-strengthens or forms pair bonds in the fall and early winter, and this involves hooting duets where each hoot results in a reply by its mate. The male has a lower pitched hoot than the female. Great Horned Owls do not construct nests, but rather use nests built by other large birds or squirrels, or the existing substrate in broken snags, cavities in cliffs, caves and trees, or in buildings and other human structures. Great Horned Owls begin nesting early and I have found females on nests as early as mid-January here in the Texas Panhandle. A pair or two nest in structures here at Pantex every year.
Long-Eared Owl - This owl’s scientific name, Asio otus, translates to “small owl with ears.” This owl is a medium-sized owl that looks similar in coloration to the Great Horned Owl. However, it is much more slender, its head more square in shape, and it actually has longer ear tuffs than the Great Horned Owl. Other key identifying characteristics are buff or orange coloration of the Long-Eared Owl's face and the fringes of the ear tufts. This bird’s inclusion on Pantex’s all-time bird list is limited to a single observation involving a lone Long-Eared Owl perched in a willow tree. The bird was not observed again and was likely just passing through.
Shored-Eared Owl - This owl’s scientific name, Asio flammeus, translates to “eared owl with fiery plumage.” This wintertime visitor to the southern U.S. is brown, spotted with buff and white on the underparts, and has heavy streaking on the breast. The Short-Eared Owl has a relatively long wingspan and small, closely-spaced ear tufts. However, the “ears” are normally concealed by feathering, only becoming conspicuous when the birds become excited. I love seeing these owls, which we sometimes flush from grassy cover while conducting fieldwork and we often see a few while conducting our spotlight surveys for wildlife.
Owls are among the many types of wildlife that call our Wild Pantex home.
Two hundred and twelve Pantex and Y-12 employees were singled out by the Office of Defense Programs for setting the bar high with their work and significant contributions to sustain our nation’s defense system.
“It’s important for the Office of Defense Programs to recognize the exceptional, complex, challenging, and innovative work that employees across the enterprise carry out each day, because their contributions ensure that our stockpile — the bedrock of the nation’s security — remains safe, secure, and effective,” said Phil Calbos, acting deputy administrator for Defense Programs. “NNSA’s stockpile stewardship capability is a central part of the nuclear deterrent, and it supports national and global security.”
Recently, ceremonies were held at Pantex to honor 10 teams and at Y-12 to honor three teams of award recipients.
DP Awards of Excellence recipients have made — in any phase of the nuclear weapons life cycle process — an identifiable and significant achievement in providing increased quality; productivity; cost savings; creativity; or enhanced weapon safety, security, or use control.
“Your accomplishments are crucial to our continued success and represent Pantex and Y-12 at their best. Thank you for maintaining our can do spirit,” CNS President and Chief Executive Officer Morgan Smith said. “Our sites have made significant achievements throughout our history that we often reflect on, but your work sets the stage for our future. You’re pushing us forward daily with better ways to get the job done. Each of the 13 projects recognized by Defense Programs makes me very proud — of you, your foresight, and your dedication to our mission for the nation. Thank you.”
Pantex winning teams:
- Automated Purchase and Ship Authorization
- Enterprise Logistics Management System Enhancements
- Pit Radiography Special Request for Pantex
- W78 Tooling Improvement Startup
- Accelerated Aging of New Production PBX-9501
- High Explosive Pressing Debonding
- WETL Additional Centrifuge-Drive Replacement
- PT3854 RF PTAE Development
- Qualification Evaluation Reports Cycle Reporting Process Improvements
- Highly Efficient Reliable Operations Tool
Y-12 winning teams:
- Direct Chip Melt Process Validation
- Electronic Derivative Classifier/Reviewing Official System
- Dismantlement Acceleration
These awards celebrate achievements across the entire Nuclear Security Enterprise and are presented in special ceremonies throughout the year at the laboratories, sites, and headquarters. During 2017, the 2016 special awards were distributed to 2,300 members across the Nuclear Security Enterprise.
The DP Awards of Excellence were established in 1982 to recognize significant individual and team accomplishments across the nuclear weapons complex in support of NNSA’s nuclear weapons program. The awards recognize significant achievements in quality, productivity, cost savings, safety, or creativity supporting NNSA’s nuclear weapons modernization program. Federal employees and contractors are eligible to win awards. An executive review panel, with equal representation from each office, selects the winners annually.
Congratulations to all 212 Pantex and Y-12 award winners!
The W78 Tooling Improvement Startup team of 26 met an aggressive schedule for new tooling to be implemented ahead of schedule and with a cost savings.
Pantex recently reached a major milestone when they passed 5 million hours without a Lost Time injury. From December 20, 2016 to December 2, 2017, Pantexans worked 5,979,716 hours without a Lost Time injury.
Jimmy Rogers, Pantex Safety and Industrial Hygiene manager, said in November2017 Pantex received two recognitions from the National Safety Council. The first was the Million Work Hours Award - noting the more than 5 million hours worked without a Lost Time injury and the second, the Occupational Excellence Achievement Award – awarded to companies that have Lost Time injury cases equal to or less than 50 percent of their industry classification code.
“I am very proud of Pantex,” said Rogers. “This is evidence that we are heading in the right direction. With keeping safety as our first imperative and our dedication to each other, we can continue to improve and strive for our goal of an injury-free workplace.”
Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Department of Energy records worker injuries in four categories, from the least serious to most serious:
- First aid: an injury such as minor cuts, sprains, or strains
- Recordable: an injury that require medical treatment such as prescriptions, stitches, or physical therapy
- Restricted Work: an injury that impacts regular work duties
- Lost Time: an injury that requires the employee be off work at least one shift
The last time Pantex achieved this many hours was in 2012, when the site went 14 months and more than 8 million hours without a Lost Time injury.
From left: Monte McAnear, Robin Harris, Anthony Ingersoll, and Corey Strickland showcase Pantex’s two recent safety recognitions.
Congratulations to Pantex on this significant accomplishment; shown are Jackie Mercer (left), Gerald Johnston, and Donny Perry.
Article by Jim Ray, Pantex Wildlife Biologist/Scientist
It’s December and time again to conduct our annual spotlight surveys for wildlife. A 24-mile route, established almost 20 years ago, is driven on three separate nights beginning just after dark. As we proceed along the route, our powerful spotlights illuminate the habitat on each side of the vehicle allowing us to possibly detect several kinds of animals and numbers of animals not typically seen during our normal workday. This makes these spotlight surveys an integral part of monitoring wildlife species at Pantex.
Fall is the time of year when the young of many species have dispersed to set up their own territories, which increases the chances of observing some of our rarer species. Also, it is late enough in the year that our vegetation has died back, making visibility better. The value of these surveys ranges from simply having the opportunity to monitor nocturnal animals for presence or absence to monitoring long-term trends of numbers or densities of these animals.
We spend much time and effort trying to document and monitor our natural resources, and we utilize that information for protecting them, making land management decisions, judging the effectiveness of our management, and answering questions asked by our management, our customer (the U. S. Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration), external entities, and the public. Such data is reported annually in various Pantex documents.
On most nights, a spotlight survey at Pantex will yield black-tailed jackrabbits, cottontails, mule deer, striped skunks, and coyotes. Bobcats have been frequently sighted during the last decade. A little less often, a night’s work could include documenting badgers, gray foxes, raccoons, white-tailed deer and, unfortunately, feral cats. In addition to mammals, a spotlight survey might be the only opportunity for us to document short-eared owls, a wintertime visitor to the region.
Coming from a background of working for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, our spotlight surveys are conducted in a manner that data is comparable with Parks and Wildlife’s, as well as among our own data between years.
Obviously, conducting these surveys is more about just consistency in methodology and being able to see eyes. It is also about seeing eye-shine at great distances, through vegetation, and seeing that of species with small eyes, those that don’t shine as bright as others, or even those that don’t shine at all. On top of that, we have to distinguish between mule deer and white-tailed deer, red foxes and grey foxes, striped skunks and badgers, bobcats and coyotes….you get the picture. It often takes time, patience, and the aid of binoculars to make those determinations and sometimes to even get a second look at the eye-shine. With spotlight surveys, the angle and the focused beam of the spotlight are everything in being able to see the eye-shine and subsequently making a determination of the species of animal.
A typical spotlight survey will take us two to three hours to conduct, depending on how many stops that we have to use binoculars and identify eyes that are a considerable distance from the vehicle. Except for the cold, it is usually an enjoyable time and an opportunity to see a little nighttime magic and document more nocturnal species in a couple of hours than we can normally see over the course of a month or even a few years.
During my time with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, I had the opportunity to participate in spotlight surveys in Palo Duro Canyon, the Canadian River bottom, breaks of the Caprock Escarpment, and in the Rolling Plains. Whether in those habitats or on the flat plains of Pantex, it sure is a different world out there at night. Using the lit-up beam of a spotlight, it’s another view of our Wild Pantex, one that most will never get to see. I look forward to them every year for that very reason.
Please feel free to share this link with others that enjoy wildlife or that appreciate entities that strive to contribute to wildlife conservation.
Photo: A bobcat prowling during the nighttime hours on the U. S. Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration Pantex Plant.
Pantex Emergency Management was recently granted membership in the National Information Sharing Consortium, an independent consortium of civic, federal, and private leaders in public safety, emergency preparedness and response, and information sharing technologies.
NISC was launched in 2012 to improve the state of public safety and emergency management information sharing and interoperability. The organization achieves this goal by sharing, connecting, innovating, and leading. With its NISC membership, Pantex Emergency Management has new access to tools, templates, and lessons learned that will provide value to the site’s emergency response operations.