Trip Report


Yellow-billed Cuckoo being banded! Photo by Tom Bush




Warblers, Raptors & Saw-whet Owls I
Big Bald Banding Station, Mars Hill, NC
Monday, September 22, 2014




    We arrived at the Big Bald parking lot under blue and sunny skies, an uncommon occurrence for this time of year (usually foggy in the morning!). On the walk up to the station on Little Bald via the Appalachian Trail we managed to find a few migrants - 2 male Black-throated Blue Warblers showed well and Swainson’s Thrushes and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks flew overhead. Once at the station, we enjoyed observing as Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Blue-headed Vireos, Dark-eyed Junco, Tennessee, Black-throated and Cape May Warblers were banded and released.  Several in our group were lucky enough to do the releasing!             
    We headed down to the parking lot at noon and enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the sunshine, before beginning our afternoon hike up to the top of Big Bald to start the hawk watch. The view from Big Bald is always a treat, but on this relatively clear day it was no less than stunning, and we could see Mount Pisgah a ways to the south. It was not a day of substantial raptor migration, but we did get great looks at 2 American Kestrels and several Broad-winged Hawks passing by to the west. The resident Common Ravens and their acrobatics and hoarse, guttural calls are always entertaining. After a few more minutes of enjoying the view and seeing a few migrating monarchs pass by, we headed back over the station on Little Bald for the remainder of the afternoon. We were happy to see a few more birds banded including American Goldfinch, Eastern Phoebe and Ruby-crowned Kinglet before heading back to Mars Hill for dinner.               

    After dinner, we made it back to Big Bald just in time to see the tail end of the sunset. With not a cloud in the sky, the night was gorgeous – perfectly clear and plenty of stars to look at. We reminded ourselves why we were here (to see the elusive Northern Saw-whet Owl!) and opened the nets. On the first net check we were surprised and delighted to find out that the banders had captured a Saw-whet Owl. Getting to see such an animal up close while measurements were being taken and while it was banded was undoubtedly the highlight of the day. Before long, we had captured another and were able to note differences between the 2 individuals, an insight that only participating in banding activities can afford. We ended the night with 2 of our group releasing the owls. The starlight was bright enough that we could see the silhouettes of the owls as they flew from their human perches and away into the night. What a way to end a great day at Big Bald Banding Station!


Aaron Steed