Marilyn Patterson has entered the Oregon Outdoors Wild Bird Photo Contest twice. Last year she took second place for a photo of a Laysan albatross chick shot on Sand Island in Midway Atoll. This year she won the whole thing, wowing judges with her ethereal photo of a reclusive long-eared owl taken in the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Northern California.
Not bad for a retired special education teacher from Medford who didn't know what kind of owl she was shooting until she and her companions dug out the bird guides they'd brought and looked it up.
"We didn't even realize it was a hard bird to find until we came back and talked to people, and they were surprised we got a photo of one," said Patterson, 64.
She, her husband, Bill, and some friends had made the trip to Humboldt County last March to see the redwoods and explore Eureka, Arcata and some of the wildlife areas that border Humboldt Bay.
"When we take a trip, I haul out my camera and do quite a bit with it," says Patterson, a volunteer at the Family Nurturing Center who has recently taken some writing courses at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. "It goes in spurts. There are other things I like to do to, so it goes in cycles."
Patterson's winning shot was one of 327 photos entered in this year's contest, the 13th annual.
The second-place photo, taken at Cedar Links Golf Club by Howard Hunt of Medford, showed that even an ordinary bird can be the subject of an extraordinary photo. Hunt's close-up of a European starling — a bird that is despised by many birders — was noteworthy for its crispness and multitude of colors.
Third place went to Tom Dew of Medford for a photo of a whimbrel taken on a beach in Southern California.
Fourth place went to Evan Cain of Astoria for a photo of a buff-breasted sandpiper taken in Seaside.
Fifth place was earned by Andrea Boyle of Medford for a photo of a killdeer taken in her friend's yard in Sams Valley.
Patterson took her winning photo with a Nikon D-300 camera equipped with a Nikon 70-200 mm lens, a gift from her husband.
"I casually mentioned that I'd like to experiment with digital photography, and he got me this semi-professional camera," said Patterson, a mother of two grown children who describes herself as "strictly an amateur" photographer.
Because the new digital was more complicated than the 35mm film camera she was used to, she took classes in digital photography at Rogue Community College before going on a birding expedition to the Galapagos Islands a few years ago.
"It was so sophisticated it took me two years to become friendly with my camera," she said.
Several thousand photographs later, she's no longer intimidated by her camera, but she is a bit overwhelmed her growing collection of photos.
"I have an awful lot of pictures in my computer," she said. "But I don't really know what to do with them."
Reach Mail Tribune Features Editor David Smigelski at 541-776-8784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.