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Big South Fork NRRA - Bandy Creek Area

Birding Seasons:
Spring A
Summer A-
Fall A
Winter B

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Site Description and Habitats

The Big South Fork NRRA preserves the canyon of the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and two tributaries, Clear Fork and the New River, that merge to create the Big South Fork, as well as many other tributaries that flow into it. The Big South Fork River flows northward through the park for about 49 miles and is free-flowing for about 37 miles until it is affected by the headwaters of Lake Cumberland. Many canyon walls in the park are quite imposing, as viewed from the abundant available overlooks, and there are many other rock formations, including arches and rock houses, that provide scenic opportunities for visitors. The park is largely forested with most of the forest being 50-70 years old, but some pockets of older growth exist. "The general forest type is mixed-oak with mixed-mesophytic pockets. This is divided into an upland community on the plateau and a ravine community. The upland vegetation types range from Red Maple-dominated stands on poorly-drained flats to Virginia Pine-dominated stands on dry ridges and cliff edges. On the broad flats and gentle slopes are the mixed oaks with hickory. Ravine communities are generally dominated by more mesic species--Beech, Sugar Maple, and Yellow Birch-with oaks on the middle and lower slopes. Hemlock is prominent in the narrow gorges and along streams. River Birch and Sycamore typify the floodplains" (National Park Service). In the lower levels of the gorge a forest of Eastern Hemlock and White Pine with rhododendron understory is quite common. Significant changes to a large portion of the forest took place during 1999-2003 when an outbreak of southern pine beetle occurred, reducing by more than 50% the evergreen component of the park's forests (Stephen J. Stedman). Extensive trail systems have been developed for equestrian uses in recent years.

Bird species of interest:

Spring and Fall Migration: Warblers, vireos, and thrushes are often common across the area. Louisiana Waterthrush, Eastern Phoebe, Chipping Sparrow, Tennessee, Blackburnian, Bay-breasted, Blue-winged, and Blackpoll Warbler can be common. Eastern Whip-poor-wills can be very abundant (mostly heard only) in spring and early summer at dusk and especially on nights with a full moon.

Summer: Ovenbird, Hooded Warbler, and Scarlet Tanager. Louisiana Waterthrush, Acadian Flycatcher, Red-eyed Vireo, Worm-eating Warbler, Northern Parula, Swainson's Warbler.

Woodland birding can be slow, but look for Red-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creeper, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglet, and sparrows may occur along forest edges. Northern Saw-whet Owls have been found in the past.

Barred and Eastern Screech-Owl are regular, resident species including Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, Northern Cardinal, among other residents are common.

Species list via eBird Hotspot Explorer
- there's only one hotspot for Big South Fork and it isn't at Bandy Creek

Submit your data to
eBird here

Detailed directions for birding Bandy Creek Area
Bandy Creek Visitors Center can be reached from junction of US27 and Hwy 297 in Oneida, proceed west 12.5 miles on Hwy 297. See links to additional access points across the area.

Please Note: When driving HWY 297 through the Big South Fork River gorge, you will encounter steep grades (up to 13%) and sharp hair-pin curves. Drive slowly, use a low gear and check turns before you enter them. Similar steep road conditions also exist when driving into Blue Heron on Hwy 741.

Lat-Long (GPS) coordinates
Bandy Loop: 36.49852-84.71495

There's a nice list of other access points and trails at Big South Fork on Dr. Steve Stedman's web site here.

Additional information on bird species and abundances at the Big South Fork here.

Fees and Hours
Open daylight hours, year round however some areas are open 24 hrs a day. No fee for birding and hiking, however there are fees for camping and other activities.

There are restroom and camping facilities.

Please refer to TWRA Hunting Guide about hunting seasons and public access dates. Access dates vary by site.

Big South Fork NRRA

Info for other sites
Tennessee's Watchable Wildlife web site