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Jesse Hodges of Ashland took fourth place with this photo of a double-breasted cormorant sunbathing in La Jolla, California.

Feast for the eyes

Christine Pitto was scanning her Rogue River-side backyard when she spied a male bald eagle along the bank feeding on a spring chinook salmon carcass, so she grabbed her camera and quietly began to stalk it like any good shutterbug would do.

"Usually they spook if they see you when they're on the ground feeding," says Pitto, of Trail.

But she channeled her inner ninja long enough to witness a true avian amore.

As Pitto watched, the eagle's female mate landed and hopped over to the carcass, which her mate willingly shared.

"If I tried to change any settings, I knew I'd lose it," Pitto says. "I'm surprised I got any of them in focus. It was amazing to be there and witness it, let alone get pictures of it."

Pitto's image captured a story about the relationship between the two birds, about the web of life in the Rogue River, and about the river's apex fauna that was so compelling it also captured first place in the 17th annual Oregon Outdoors Wild Bird Photo Contest.

It's the second time Pitto has won the photo contest, which is open to anybody as long as either the birds or the photographer are from Oregon. In 2014 she won the contest with a photo of a male evening grosbeak feeding a female chick, and that one also was shot in her backyard.

This year's contest drew 211 submissions from 75 photographers, who could enter up to five entries each.

Second place went to Randy Young of Central Point for his photograph of an American white pelican on Whetstone Pond at the Denman Wildlife Area.

Third place went to Keith Todd of Beaverton for his image of a night heron in a willow tree near Fanno Creek.

Fourth place went to Jesse Hodges of Ashland for his close-up of a double-breasted cormorant sunbathing in La Jolla, California.

Fifth place went to Brian McPartland of Jacksonville for his photo of a male bluebird during mating season.

And, as usual, Medford photographer Randy Shipley took the People's Choice award for garnering the most online votes. He won that award for the fourth straight year, this time for a photo of a gosling getting nipped by its sibling at Denman Wildlife Area.

Pitto has been taking pictures of birds and insects since childhood, switching over from film to digital in 2004.

She writes a short column with a photograph of all things buggy for the Upper Rogue Independent called "Creepy Crawlies with Christy" and is a regular on Twitter, offering for public consumption several of the many hundreds of images she shoots daily @CrawliesWithCri.

Living in the Rogue's riparian zone turns her backyard into a veritable wildlife studio, and she always keeps her Canon 80D within arm-shot. A self-employed construction designer, she works at home and keeps a keen eye on the Rogue and its inhabitants.

"I have a passion for nature," she says. "Being able to live in the riparian zone, I know I am really privileged."

Perhaps never more so than late last October, when she spotted the eagle having its fishy nosh. After moving into place to photograph the male, she didn't even notice the female until it landed in her background.

"I've seen one mated pair ever in my life," Pitto says. "It's not an everyday occurrence, even here."

The image and its ensuing popularity have Pitto branching out. She plans to have her own website up sometime next month to boost sales of prints, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife even has posted the image on its website.

Pitto says she's not in it for notoriety or money. She relishes the role her photographs can have in exposing the community to the intrinsic beauty of nature for those patient enough to look for it — as she did with the eagles sharing a quiet salmon supper together.

"I hope it touches people and reminds people how lucky we are to be where we are," Pitto says.

— 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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