TRAIL — The image photographer Christine Pitto captured last October in the backyard of her home along the Rogue River made a liar out of her.

A photo she had captured two years earlier of an evening grosbeak feeding its young, also in her backyard, earned her top honors in the 2014 Oregon Outdoors Wild Bird Photo Contest, and she vowed never to enter the contest again.

But her picture of two bald eagles sharing a riverside meal of a spawned-out fall chinook salmon was an image she felt compelled to share so others could realize this apex fauna really is a tangible resident of the Rogue Valley.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Pitto says. "I entered it because I wanted people to see them. Like, hey, this is what's in our backyard.

"Sure, literally, it's my backyard," she says. "But, figuratively, it's everybody's backyard."

Those two backyard images made Pitto the only repeat winner in the annual photo contest, which opens for online submissions today for the 18th season and runs through the close of business Dec. 15.

The all-online contest is open to anybody as long as either the bird or the photographer are from Oregon. So an Oregonian shooting in Malaysia is just as legit as a Malaysian shooting here. To enter, register at www.mailtribune.com/birdcontest

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

Aside from Pitto's prowess, one other constant of the contest is Medford photographer Randy Shipley's virtual ownership of the People's Choice award for garnering the most online votes. Shipley has won that award the past four years, most recently for a photo of a gosling getting nipped by its sibling at Denman Wildlife Area.

The top five photos chosen by Oregon Outdoors judges, along with the People's Choice award picked by online voters, will be published Dec. 22 in the Mail Tribune.

Birds and cameras have been a staple of Pitto's life since childhood, first dabbling in film but switching 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 she is a regular on Twitter (@CrawliesWithCri), offering for public consumption images from the many hundreds she shoots.

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 take bird photos every day, always," Pitto says.

She credits regular shooting, as well as critiques and advice from more seasoned bird photographers — "there are a lot of good bird photographers around here," she says — for helping her grow in her avocation over the years.

"I'm still learning," she says. "I'm not good at shooting in flight. I'm blown away by people with good in-flight photos."

Pitto says winning the Oregon Outdoors contest once was a good confidence builder. But winning twice "is twice as good as winning once," she says. "Winning's always good. Losing sucks."

As much as she likes winning photo contests, she wants other shutterbugs to share in that experience.

That's why you won't see birds from Pitto's backyard in this year's contest.

"I think if you win twice, you ought to be done," she says. "I'm not saying I'd expect to win, but I'd feel bad if I entered and won again. Let somebody else enjoy winning."

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