Jim Shames headed out into a September dawn on Klamath Lake near Point Comfort in something of a comfort zone of his own.
With his wife, Heidi, paddling as usual in back, Shames sat in his normal perch in the front of the canoe with his camera trained on a white pelican sitting nervously in the flat water as the sun slipped up across the lake.
"I shoot a lot of birds, but I always keep coming back to pelicans," says Shames, 67, of Ashland.
But not like this.
When the pelican had enough, it rose skyward and leapt into the sunlight while Shames let his full-frame Canon 6D fly.
The image he captured and submitted for the Oregon Outdoors Wild Bird Photo Contest does justice to the pelican. Every feather and wrinkle on the bird's body is visible in the image. The details in the bird's eyes and on its beak are sharp, the claws on its webbed feet pronounced. Even the water droplets frozen in the air help make it more than a great bird shot — it's a winning shot.
And Shames knew he nailed it.
"It's not like film, when I had to wait a week to see if I got it," he laughs. "In 30 seconds, I was looking down and thinking, 'Hey, I think I got it.' It captured so much detail, it blows my mind."
Shames topped the field in the Mail Tribune's 14th annual contest, which attracted 412 entries.
It is the first contest win for the life-long shutterbug who has entered the Mail Tribune's contest in the past, although he only entered this year's contest at the urging of a friend.
"He said, 'Why don't you enter 'Pelican Rising,' so I did," Shames says.
Second place went to Melvin Clements of Ashland, who entered a crisp, well-composed shot of a rough-legged hawk captured in the Lower Klamath Wildlife Refuge.
Patricia Parker of Medford earned third place for her excellent photo of a tui, a hard-to-photograph bird, in New Zealand's Stewart Island.
Fourth place went to a photograph of a local favorite — a yellow-headed blackbird — taken at Spring Lake in Klamath County by Gregory Vinyard of Talent.
Fifth place went to Geanie Flanigan of Medford, whose shot of a common loon in Charleston Harbor gained points for its excellent composition.
For the first time, the contest included a Peoples' Choice winner, chosen by online voters. Randy Shipley of Medford garnered the most votes with his shot of a green heron eating a bull frog near Agate Lake.
"I watched this green heron for 15 minutes until it swallowed the frog whole," Shipley wrote on his entry.
Shames, who is Jackson County's medical director, often finds himself among pelicans during his regular photography forays onto Klamath Lake, often rising from a cabin at 5 a.m. to hit the canoe.
"I love it in the morning," he says.
Klamath Lake has a lot of pelicans, and they often let Shames get close enough to capture a good image. They appear even closer thanks to the full-frame Canon he bought last spring to shoot photos of his first grandchild.
He lets the pelicans decide when enough is enough, and that's when the drama begins.
"I wait and wait, then shoot as they fly away, of course," he says.
This time, the bird exploded into the rays of dawn, making the image almost appear staged.
"It's shining a spotlight on the pelican," Shames says.
The winning image was one of the first bird shots he took with the new camera. His 300 mm lens helps provide startling detail.
"When I looked down I realized I had an image better than I've ever had before," he says.
One of the other frames captured that day had slightly better composition, but Shames chose this one because of the level of detail.
"When I blow it up and blow it up, the details are still there," he says. "You can even see the toenails."