Pantex Blog

Wild Pantex – Southbound Swainson’s

Posted: Monday, October 6, 2014 - 00:00

Article by Jim Ray, Pantex Wildlife Biologist/Scientist

While relocating a bull snake that had decided to bask in the warm sunshine right on the back steps of one of our buildings, a Swainson’s hawk perched atop a power pole captured my attention. It was apparent that the beautiful raptor was sporting one of our GPS Platform Transmitter Terminal (PTT) backpacks, which allow us and our collaborators from West Texas A&M University and the U.S.G.S. Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Texas Tech University to gather data from the hawks on a year-round basis. The antennae stretching upward from the PTT was quite visible and, at that distance, I could even see the leg bands that all of our study birds wear.

Hours later, I arrived by commercial airline in Corpus Christi, where, over the next four days I had the privilege of interacting with fellow wildlife biologists at a conference focusing on birds-of-prey. The Raptor Research Foundation 2014 Conference was a well-run meeting and featured presentations on research from around the globe. Topics ranged from ecology, conservation and monitoring of species; to effects of wind energy development and electrical infrastructure on species; as well as evaluating techniques for the safe study of these magnificent creatures. It was a great opportunity for the world’s top researchers of birds-of-prey to share ideas and, in some cases, form new partnerships.

Pantex played a role in the conference in a couple of ways. First off, at our/Pantex’s recommendation, the U. S. Department of Energy (headquarters in Washington, DC) joined six other sponsors in providing financial support for the conference. This was well within the spirit of Executive Order 13186, Responsibilities of Federal Agencies to Protect Migratory Birds, which directs federal agencies to promote research, partnerships, and information exchange related to the conservation of migratory birds. How perfect of a fit was that? Those three goals were met through one action!

Besides sponsorship and participation in the conference (attendance and networking), Pantex and collaborators with the U.S.G.S. Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Texas Tech University presented a poster, “Movement rates of Swainson’s hawks migrating from Texas to Argentina.” Graduate student Laurie Groen did a great job with the preparation and presentation of that poster.

When I returned to work at Pantex the following Monday morning I looked online and I was excited to find that one of our PTT-marked Swainson’s hawks was making a southerly move. Its initial movement was southeast, which has been characteristic of many of our birds, and was currently in the Wichita Falls area. Soon, it will turn to the south, sail by Corpus Christi where the world’s raptor researchers had just gathered, and be off to Argentina.

It is truly great that Pantex has built a program based on partnerships, and consistently demonstrates a role in the conservation of migratory birds. Funding for the projects is provided by the U. S. Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration in cooperation with Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC.

-Please feel free to share with others-

 A PTT-marked Swainson's hawk captured on camera north of Panhandle, TX

Photo: A PTT-marked Swainson's hawk captured on camera north of Panhandle, TX. The inset map shows the typical migration route of Swainson's hawks from our area, once into the interior of Mexico, from the entire breeding range of the species. Photo courtesy of Mark Elliot.

Pantexans Dish Up Barbecue

Posted: Wednesday, September 10, 2014 - 00:00

Pantex is a longtime supporter of the Amarillo Chamber of Commerce event

Pantexans Dish Up Barbecue

More than a dozen Pantexans volunteered to help cook and serve some delicious barbecue Wednesday night at the annual Amarillo Chamber of Commerce Good Times Celebration and Barbecue Cookoff. For more than a decade, Pantex has been a prominent supporter of the event, which is the Chamber's largest fundraising event of the year.

Pantexans Dish Up Barbecue

Pantex Takes On Weather Preparedness

Posted: Wednesday, September 3, 2014 - 00:00

Plant first DOE entity named Storm-Ready Nation Ambassador

Krissy Scotten,Michelle Reichert and Brenda Vermillion

National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist Krissy Scotten, from left, presented the WRN Ambassador designation to Pantex Site Manager Michelle Reichert and Carson County Emergency Management Coordinator Brenda Vermillion at a Pantex ceremony Tuesday.

Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration named Pantex Plant a Weather-Ready Nation (WRN) Ambassador Tuesday. The WRN program is a new initiative to spread critical information to residents about how to prepare for and respond to a weather emergency. Ambassadors take the lead in helping unify efforts across government, non-profits, academia and private industry to make the nation more ready, responsive and resilient against severe weather.

Pantex joined Carson County this month as a WRN Ambassador, with plans for multiple events throughout September to spread the message about weather preparedness to Pantexans and county residents. Pantex is the first DOE entity named a WRN Ambassador, and Carson County is the first county in the Texas Panhandle to achieve the designation.

NOAA named Pantex a Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador

Pantex Supports United Way

Posted: Tuesday, August 26, 2014 - 00:00

Clarence Rashada holds up a sign expressing Pantexan support during the United Way

Clarence Rashada holds up a sign expressing Pantexan support during the United Way campaign kickoff event last week as Kendra Garcia, from left, Kathy Felder and Charles Thomas look on. The four are loaned executives from Pantex, sent to support the United Way campaign, which has a theme this year of “Make it Personal.”

Each year, Pantex employees pledge hundreds of thousands of dollars to United Way of Amarillo and Canyon, making the plant a top giver to the campaign.

Wild Pantex – Songbirds, Satellites, and the Tiniest of Technologies

Posted: Monday, August 25, 2014 - 00:00

Article by Jim Ray, Pantex Wildlife Biologist/Scientist

As mind-boggling as it may seem, as of this writing 13 adult songbirds are currently drifting southward, if not already soaring over the mighty Amazon River basin…with tiny GPS units strapped to their topsides. This is the first year that this technology has produced a unit small enough to be worn by such a small bird. An additional 12 birds sport a different kind of backpack, one that measures light-levels, only to be later converted by a computer program to a longitude and latitude, thus, like the GPS units, pinpoint locations of the birds as they make the roundtrip from a breeding site in Randall County to wintering areas in Brazil.

Although part of a larger partnership and research endeavor led by York University (Toronto, Canada), the University of Manitoba (Winnipeg, Canada), and the Purple Martin Conservation Association, the inclusion of Texas Panhandle birds in the range-wide study in 2013 and 2014 was made possible by Pantex – thanks to the commitment to the conservation of migratory birds displayed by the U. S. Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration in cooperation with Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC. An Executive Order and Memorandum of Understanding between the agencies and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service guides that conservation.

The subject bird is the Purple Martin (Progne subis), which is the largest swallow species in North America. The eastern subspecies, which is distributed east of the Rocky Mountains, nests almost exclusively in man-supplied bird housing. This and the fact that it is most apt to nest in such housing that is situated among human habitations, golf courses, and other such places, makes the bird a great subject for study. Much of what can be learned from the easily accessible Purple Martin, can tell us volumes about the migratory and wintering habits of other, much harder-to-study songbirds with similar life histories. Many of these are declining in population, as is the Purple Martin within some portions of its range of distribution.


You may recall the news and social media reports on our deployment of geolocators that took place last year: See: Pantex Gets Hands on With Purple Martins, NNSA Blog, and Wildcat Bluff Blog. Those birds departed from the colony in early August to points unknown.


In mid-February, individuals began to make their appearance again back at their colony site. Then, came a little bad luck. A family down the street with a large colony of Purple Martins moved away and took their martin housing with them. These birds, finding their nesting cavities missing, rapidly started filling in the available cavities at our study colony. This is normally a good problem to have!

However, we needed room for all of those returning geolocators! I ordered and put up more housing as fast as I could to try to make room for any geolocator-marked bird that had yet to secure a cavity or arrive from South America. I had new gourd bird houses hanging on the basketball goal, on the old swing set, and I erected 12 more on a fancy pole system out behind the house. These all filled up rapidly with pairs, but only eight geolocators were retrieved, which is a lower rate of return than what you would normally expect.

York University collaborators are currently analyzing our data, which I will share once the information gets published. However, I will say this. Preliminary data indicates that our birds and, to a lesser extent, those of a site at Corpus Christi –also on the western edge of the range—will be pointed out as being “different” in one aspect of their migration than those from all of the other study sites which are scattered from Alberta to Florida. In addition, there are a couple of other revelations that will be worth mentioning.

Oh, and next year the GPS backpacks which have a much higher accuracy, may be able to pinpoint the various trees or other structures that these birds are utilizing while away from our area. Stay tuned!

An adult male Purple Martin

An adult male Purple Martin with a geolocator and band painted red to make it easier to be “picked out” among the other birds in the colony as being just released or needing recaptured.