– Last week, as fall colors were three-quarters of the way toward peak in central Minnesota, I was faced with a dilemma. It was one I had dealt with on many occasions: How can I best spend my time during the short stretch when the landscape glows red, orange and gold?

Many of the flamboyant birds of summer have headed south, riding a north wind on a clear evening. Photographing species like orioles, tanagers and most warblers is not an option in early October. Yet some colorful species are still hanging around, including some sparrows, and the normal vibrant winter residents like blue jays, cardinals and woodpeckers.

I also enjoy photographing waterfowl. But this early in the fall most species of waterfowl, particularly ducks, are still undergoing the molting process. Their drab feathers of summer are not yet fully replaced by iridescent plumage.

I don’t consider myself a landscape photographer. I prefer to photograph wildlife. However, I do love when nature cooperates and I can combine an eye-popping landscape that also includes wildlife. I call those images two-for-ones. In other words, a combination of an attractive background or foreground (at this time of year, beautiful fall foliage) and wildlife.

So, on that day, I thought of attempting to photograph songbirds perched among brilliant fall foliage. But the wind was gusty, and that makes bird photography difficult because the branches are swaying, resulting in blurry images.

I instead chose to take the late afternoon to pursue deer. Though deer don’t sway with the wind, I knew the wind speed and, more important, direction would play a key role in capturing excellent images.

Or not.

After all, it’s no secret deer possess olfactory abilities that we humans can’t begin to fathom. One whiff of us and they are gone.

I drove to a location where I knew the northwest wind would be in my favor. Scouting had also revealed red oak trees on each side of an open meadow flush with acorns, a favorite food of deer and other wildlife, and the spot, a south-facing slope, was illuminated with red sumac leaves.

I built a crude blind using natural vegetation, and sat back to wait.

The light was getting dim when the first deer appeared. An adult doe began to walk across the opening, but despite the wind, she heard my camera’s shutter as I fired away, and she was instantly on the alert. I was holding out a faint hope that a buck was following her, but the peak of the rut is about a month away and the only deer to follow were another doe and a fawn.

I knew my set shutter speed was marginal. While I had my camera and telephoto lens supported on a sturdy tripod, I knew most of my images would not be sharp. But a few, like the one on this page, were of good quality.

This scenario repeats itself with the changing of seasons. Soon the whitetail deer rut will ramp up, and despite barren trees and shrubs, the landscape will have its own beauty.

I plan to be there.


Bill Marchel is an outdoors writer and photographer. He lives near Brainerd. Reach him at bill@billmarchel.com.