Sitting on her back porch overlooking the Rogue River last spring, Christine Pitto was snapping her usual few hundred images when a male evening grosbeak with two young chicks appeared on one of her feeders.
She'd noticed in the past year of focusing on photographing birds that a surprisingly large number of males help feed their young, and this particular dad had his wings full with this pair.
"They were vying over which one would get the food," Pitto recalls. "They were ridiculously cute. I was just trying to capture the moment."
A frame of the adult feeding an obviously delighted female chick not only captured that moment, it captured the eyes of Oregon Outdoors Wild Bird Photo Contest judges enough that it earned Pitto top honors in the 15th annual contest.
"Oh, my God, that only took five years," says Pitto, a regular entrant.
This all digital contest is open annually to any photographers who either shoot images in Oregon or are Oregonians shooting outside of the state or both — as long as the Oregon connection is there.
This year's contest drew 275 submissions from 89 photographers, who were limited to up to five entries each.
Second place went to a photo of an Anna's hummingbird defending its territory shot by Jesse Hodges of Ashland.
Third place went to Thomas Ommen of Jacksonville for his photo cedar waxwing feeding on Possum Haw berries shot in Georgetown, Texas.
And honorable mention place went to Melvin Clements of Ashland for his closeup of a mature bald eagle captured at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, a hotbed for wintering eagles.
The People's Choice Award, based on online voting, went to Randy Shipley for his photo capturing more than a bird. He harnessed irony when he shot a bald eagle perched next to a national wildlife refuge sign warning waterfowlers that there is no legal hunting from that particular dike.
As for Pitto, her winning image says a lot about where she lives, what she does and what she covets.
A construction designer and a contributor to the Upper Rogue Independent weekly newspaper, Pitto's often home, and that means she's in her backyard two to three hours a day armed with her Canon 70D.
"It's kind of what I do all day every day," Pitto says.
She lives on the Rogue near Trail, so the river's rich riparian zone is her stage and the avian actors her players. That's especially true in spring, when myriad birds hunt amid the massive hatches of large insects like stoneflies.
Pitto often shoots 400 to 900 images a day attempting to document that.
"We're on the Rogue River," she says. "We have so much in our own backyard and I try to prove it."
She also seeks out evening grosbeaks, which were the favorite bird of her mother, who annually brought her the Oregon Outdoors section when the photo contest kicked off.
Pitto's mother died in 2012, and shooting evening grosbeaks creates a connection for her.
Being able to win her first contest with a photo of her mother's favorite bird brings Pitto's win in full circle.
"Winning this contest really means a lot to me," she says. "My mom always wanted me to enter this contest."