How I got this photo: Blue jay in fall foliage

  • Updated: August 28, 2014 - 9:38 AM

To see this image of the blue jay in full color, go to

Photo: Bill Marchel • Special to the Star Tribune,

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Look closely, and you’ll notice that a touch of fall color is beginning to appear in the great outdoors.

Depending on where you live in Minnesota, the grand show might be only a few weeks away.

So if you enjoy photography, and your goal is to secure a stunning image of your favorite bird species amid the brilliant red, orange and gold of autumn, now is the time to prepare.

It takes some planning.

Over the years I have landscaped my yard with a variety of trees and shrubs, each with the purpose of attracting birds and other wildlife. I also use nine different types of bird feeders; each has a purpose. My goal is to draw as many different species of birds as possible, so each feeder contains a different attractant — from suet to sunflower seeds, and everything in between.

I also mount the feeders on poles, which allows me to freely move the feeders about my yard as the various trees and shrubs begin their color change. I can relocate the feeders close to the most vibrant vegetation. Birds will often land in the trees or shrubs before flying to the feeders.

I like to locate my feeders close to my plant of choice a week or so ahead of time to allow the local birds to become accustomed to the new location. This also allows me to observe the birds’ movements; birds approaching feeders often seem to have a favorite branch or branches they land on first.

At the same time, I also place a tent blind — again, to allow the birds to become accustomed to the new surroundings.

When I was planning this photo of a blue jay perched in a red oak tree, I thought the combination of red, white and blue would make a delightful picture. Blue jays like corn and sunflower seeds, so I made sure the feeders were kept well stocked. Then, when the time was right, the fall color at its peak and the morning light “just so,” I simply slipped into my blind — and waited.

Blue jays are wary birds, and often fly away at the slightest hint of danger. The fact that I had prepared my “outdoor photography studio” ahead of time allowed me to get a number of “keeper” images on that fall morning — not just of blue jays, but other bird species as well.

The blue jay photo, though, is my favorite.

Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.

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