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Big Bald Banding Station
Description: Big Bald Banding Station (BBBS) is a volunteer bird migration monitoring program operating in the southern Appalachian mountains of NC and TN during the months of September and October. Big Bald Banding Station is located high on Little Bald Mountain at 5390 feet above sea level (1643m), inside the Appalachian Trail corridor in Cherokee National Forest, Unicoi County, Tennessee and Pisgah National Forest, Yancey County, North Carolina. The habitat is an edge transition mix of grassy bald maintained by USFS semi-annual mowing offering dramatic long-range views on clear days. Vegetation includes native annual and perennial shrubs, northern hardwood forest, and native heath shrub thickets. Northern vistas point toward Roan Mountain, with Mount Mitchell, the highest peak in the eastern U.S., rising ten miles to the southeast.

Wildlife to Watch: Big Bald Mountain has been designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) and the National Audubon Society's Important Bird Area program. Big Bald is part of the Southern Blue Ridge IBA, which includes several high altitude sites such as Roan Mountain, Unaka Mountain and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This north-south corridor provides migratory, breeding, and wintering habitat for numerous bird species. BBBS is one of very few banding stations in the US that monitors and bands songbirds, raptors and owls and welcomes visitors. On clear autumn days, literally tens of thousands of songbirds use the Big Bald habitat as a migration stopover rest area, feeding and fattening before moving farther south. An average of ~2000 migrating songbirds are captured, banded and safely released each autumn at Big Bald. Since 2004, the Big Bald Hawkwatch has documented the passage of 15 different species of raptors annually. The Big Bald Hawkwatch has counted a total of 24,813 birds of prey, with an average seasonal total of 3,102 migrating raptors. A raptor trapping substation bands approximately 100 birds of prey of 10 different species.

Special Tips: Be aware of hiking in this area during hunting season (October-December). Wear Orange.

Ownership: USDA Forest Service 
Size: 60 Acres 
Closest Town: Mars Hill, NC


Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing:

Photo by USDA Forest Service
Please use the Map Link below

Driving Directions:
Take Interstate 26 to Exit 3 (U.S. 23A/Wolf Laurel ) , ~25 miles north of Asheville, NC, or ~30 miles south of Johnson City, TN. Turn downhill at end of exit toward main highway US 23 Alt S. Turn right on US-23 Alt S. Take the 1st left onto State Rd 1503 at BIG Wolf Laurel advertisement sign. Drive only ~200 yards. Take the 1st left onto Puncheon Fork Rd for ~3.5 miles. Turn right at Wolf Laurel Rd, go uphill to gate ~0.5 miles. Stop at the gate and tell them “you are helping with the bird project on Big Bald.” Follow the main pavement road uphill to a ‘T’ intersection, ~1.5 mile. (If you drive past the Wolf Laurel Country Club, you are going the wrong way!) Turn left at ‘T’ intersection onto Big Bald Road, and follow for ~2 miles uphill (will turn to gravel). Park near big metal gate that blocks the road. Walk up the road past the gate ~ 1/4 mile to the gap where the road makes a strong left turn and the Appalachian Trail crosses the road. Follow white markers on fence posts along trail to the north (to the right), hiking up the smaller bald for ~ 1/2 mile. Look for nets and banding table near large boulders along the trail near the summit of the smaller bald at the edge of the trees.

Map Link

Big Bald Banding Station : Wildlife Viewing Area