Article by James D. Ray, Wildlife Biologist
Although the Texas Panhandle’s winter was fairly mild this year, I was definitely looking forward to spring. As a kid growing up in the northwestern corner of the area, we didn’t have mesquite trees that many south of us believe leaf out only after the threat of the last freeze has passed. The sign of spring that I watched for every year was the arrival of the western kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis). Back then, I called them "yellow-bellies" because the bird has lemon-yellow undersides. The bird is ashy-gray on top, and its tail feathers are black except for the white outer tail feathers that are especially conspicuous in flight. There was no mistaking their arrival; western kingbird’s plumage and shape is not easily confused with other birds in our area, and they are quite noisy when claiming territories and mates. In addition, they have a habit of perching on exposed wires and dead tree branches.
Aptly included in a guild of birds referred to as tyrant flycatchers, the bird is frequently observed aggressively mobbing hawks and other larger birds that it feels are a threat to its eggs and young. This behavior can include physical contact, which is quite effective in keeping aerial predators moving along. Oftentimes, kingbirds from neighboring territories join in on the chase, causing quite a commotion. This can escalate after the chase ends as the residents of the territory remind the other kingbirds that they had better be moving along. As a youth, I would often climb trees and peek in on their nests and thus have experienced firsthand the bold attacks of these birds. I can attest to the normally-hidden red crown of the head that is shown to intruders at the end of their dives. Thus, the specific part of their scientific name, verticalis, which refers to crown.
Western kingbirds are associated with open country and are distributed across the state with the exception of the Piney Woods of East Texas. They are one of the more common birds observed at Pantex and the surrounding region. Occasionally, pairs can be found nesting as close to each other as 12 meters. Western kingbird nests are constructed on shrubs, trees, utility poles, backs of highway signs, buildings, and even parked farm implements. The nest is an open cup made of grass stems, rootlets, and other plant fibers and is lined with softer material like wool, cotton, and feathers. Western kingbirds incubate two to seven eggs at a time and raise one to two broods per year.
In typical flycatcher style, western kingbirds capture their flying insect prey by jumping or flying into the air from a perch and they will also fly out and snatch prey from the ground. The western kingbird spends our winters along the Pacific coast and adjacent interior of southern Mexico and Central America. In recent years, Florida has also hosted a wintering population of this bird.
The early arrivals of this harbinger of spring normally occur during the second half of April in this portion of northwest Texas. Right on cue, the Pantex agronomist spotted a western kingbird at his house during the third weekend of the month. Although certainly a sign of spring, I held off a week or two before becoming busy with spring gardening.
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An industrious pair of western kingbirds at Pantex built their nest right on top of spikes intended to prevent rock pigeons from roosting or nesting in that location. Often difficult to see, the kingbird’s red crown shows conspicuously in this photo.
A western kingbird nest on a structure at the Pantex Plant.
The Pantex Fire Department recently won Best Ribs and People’s Choice Award at the annual Battle of the Badges Barbeque Style Cook-off. While there, the group presented the @100 Club of the Texas Panhandle with a $500 check to help further their mission of supporting area emergency workers. After the event, members of the fire department took all of the leftover barbeque to the men and women fighting the grass fires in Armstrong County.
Pantex recently held its annual Armed Forces Day celebration to recognize and thank veterans and active military members for their service in support of our country. The ceremony featured presentation of the colors by the Pantex Fire Department Honor Guard, recognition of the POW/MIA table, and a keynote address by Lyle Cary, CNS vice president for Safeguards, Security, and Emergency Services.
Pantex hosted a Partners in Excellence Outreach Forum attended by representatives from 61 companies looking to do work with CNS.
Small Business Program Manager Ryan Johnston said, “Pantex must have a broad base of contractors to partner with to ensure mission success. The forum provided local and national contractors the knowledge needed to establish these partnerships.”
Discussion included upcoming opportunities for construction related scopes, an overview of the site, and how to do business with CNS.
CNS hosted its inaugural Fellows Colloquium March 28 at Y 12, and CNS President and CEO Morgan Smith called it a historic day. The forum was established to highlight CNS’s vital technical work and to honor its first four fellows for their vast technical knowledge and their abilities to mentor others.
“This is our declaration that we are an organization that does work of tremendous scientific and technical significance for our nation, and this work requires the very best. It’s our most senior scientific and technical rank or title and connotes that we are engaged in activities that merit this level of personnel — equal to what occurs elsewhere in high technology industries,” said Smith.
Glenn Pfennigwerth (Uranium Fellow), Alan Moore (Metallurgy), Vincent Lamberti (Y 12 Surveillance), and Lorelei Woods (Pantex Surveillance) were recognized as our strategic advisors and top mentors and were pinned by Smith. With a combined 143 years of experience, these fellows set the bar high. Each fellow presented the state of their area of expertise, and 18 other Pantex and Y 12 technical experts presented posters covering diverse areas of expertise — from explosives and advanced manufacturing to nonproliferation and lithium.
“The colloquium was vitally important to showcase the great technical work we do and to honor the individuals who are leading us into the future,” said Ashley Stowe, CNS Fellows program manager. “The excitement for staff at Pantex and Y 12 encourages me as we move forward and continue to grow an excellent technical staff. This is just the beginning, however; we are already looking forward to hosting the 2019 colloquium at Pantex.”