The Red River separates the states of North Dakota and Minnesota where their respective counties of Cass and Clay meet. The valley itself was formed over 9,000 years ago with the retreat of a giant inland body of water known as Lake Agassiz. Left in its wake is many thousands of acres of rich sediment, which today is home to some of the most productive farmland in the country. As a result, the valley floor is heavily cultivated leaving comparatively limited birding opportunities outside of migration. Some locals have gone so far as to label it the “black desert,” referring to the relative scarcity of bird life among the rich farmed soils.
Along Lake Agassiz’s prehistoric beaches, however, there remain patches of grasslands (some preserved as parks or natural areas, particularly in Clay County) harboring a fairly rich variety of upland and wetland nesting birds, including such species as chestnut-collared longspur, marbled godwit, northern shrike, and Wilson’s phalarope. These ridges can be found by traveling either east or west for about 15 miles from Fargo-Moorhead. Here is where cropland thins and grassland or pasture begins. In addition, a fairly large wetland complex (Alice area of Cass County) continues to provide habitat for nesting western, eared, and red-necked grebes, least bitterns (uncommon), and a wide array of waterfowl.
Thus local birding is generally treated in two ways: First is spring and fall migration along the wooded riparian zones, mostly the Red River itself. Passerine and raptor movements can be rewarding in these areas during those times of the year (refer to Fargo-Moorhead parks). During summer and even winter, however, the outlying uplands mentioned above become the go-to spots. Nesting grassland species, waterfowl species, and raptors garner attention. Winter means a search for snowy owls, rough-legged hawks, golden eagles, flocks of snow buntings, or some northern rarity (refer to outlying Cass and Clay counties).