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Fourth Place: Zia Fukuda of the Applegate wrote this description of her photo of a spotted owl fledgling: 'This is one of two young successfully fledged by a pair at a known site in Southern Oregon. In the study area, this site is one of only three out of 45 or more sites monitored that successfully reproduced and fledged young.'

Pelican perfection

On a June vacation to Brookings, Jesse Hodges had no idea he had stumbled into the birders' jackpot at the end of a pier.

Vast swaths of anchovies had moved en masse into the Chetco River estuary. and so did large flocks of brown pelicans moving in for the free meal.

"It was chaos," Hodges says. "Pelicans were everywhere.  I had my camera ready to take pictures of birds."

Out of the chaos, Hodges' lens captured a brown pelican seemingly floating above the sea, with the sun's last rays bouncing off its wings as if it glowed.

That fantastic collection of feathers and light earned the 33-year-old software developer from Talent First Place in this fall's Oregon Outdoors Wild Bird Photo Contest.

A regular contributor who has placed in the top five the past three years but never won, Hodges is one of 68 photographers who entered 224 images in the 17th annual online contest.

Hodges says he entered that image because he was enrapt by the colors created by the setting sun.

"I loved the light in that photo," he says. "It's like its wings are on fire from the angle of the light."

Second Place went to Applegate's Terry Fisher, who photographed a Wilson's phalarope at the Kirkland Ponds near White City, a venerable go-to spot for Rogue Valley birders and bird photographers.

Allen Smith of Medford took Third Place with his photo of a yellowlegs wading in the shallows near Klamath Falls.

Fourth Place went to Zia Fukuda of the Applegate, who added this description of her photo of a northern spotted owl fledgling: "This is one of two young successfully fledged by a pair at a known site in Southern Oregon. In the study area, this site is one of only three out of 45 or more sites monitored that successfully reproduced and fledged young."

Fifth Place went to Chuck Collins of Klamath Falls, who entered a photo of a bald eagle in a juniper tree on Lower Lake Road in Klamath Falls.

And for the fifth year in a row, the Peoples' Choice winner from online voting went to Randy Shipley of Medford for his photo of a bald eagle with a freshly plucked fish in its talons in Esperanza Inlet in British Columbia.

Shipley says it was a hand-held camera shot from a rocking boat, so he was very happy when the image came out so clear.

Hodges is an avid birder and photographer whose forays into the woods and waters to collect images has been whittled down to about a half-dozen a year since the birth of his son, who is now 2 years old.

"Before that, I was an avid photographer, mostly all birds," he says.

That made the June 24 trip to Brookings a rare family birding trip.

"We were definitely birding," Hodges says.

The Chetco estuary also was definitely in the midst of one of the larger summer showings in years of anchovies, a baitfish preferred by predators ranging from salmon to seabirds such as brown pelicans.

"We didn't know about it beforehand," Hodges says. "We just got lucky."

That made the stroll down the Brookings pier had to include one necessity:  Hodge's Nikon D500 camera with a 300-milimeter lens and teleconverter.

They are the perfect combination to shoot pelicans, he says.

"I like shooting pelicans," Hodges says. "They're big enough that you can catch them in flight really consistently.

"In-flight bird photos are great and difficult to capture," he says. "I got lucky."

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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