Dori Eldridge is one of those people who always seems to be outside, no matter the season, toting her camera and searching for that perfect shot to capture nature's true magic.
"My neighbors think I'm a lunatic," the Naperville woman says, "because I'm always on my belly taking pictures of snowflakes or bugs."
So it's a good bet people who know her weren't surprised to see Eldridge in the dead of winter sitting in a chair on her back patio while carefully tracking American tree sparrows with her Sony Alpha 500 digital camera.
"I like to tell people that I stalk birds," she says.
On this particular day, the sparrows, which she says breed on the tundra and come into this area only in winter, arrived by the dozens to take advantage of the feeders scattered around Eldridge's snow-covered yard.
It provided the ideal setting for her photograph of two sparrows dueling in midair.
"There's always one that tries to chase the others off (the feeders)," she says. "But it's been a challenge for me to get a clear shot of birds in midair."
You'd never guess it by looking at the stunning photograph she submitted and that the Daily Herald's DuPage photo staff selected as the winner of our February Photo Finish contest.
"I like it because I once heard it said that 'chance prefers the prepared mind,'" DuPage Photo Director Scott Sanders says. "In order to get a shot as sharp and direct as this one, you have to be in the right spot, have the right camera, with the right lens, with the shutter set correctly, ready to go so you'll be able to capture the photo when you see it."
Indeed, Eldridge was both ready and a little lucky to capture the winning image.
She said she was shooting in RAW format, which creates enormous digital files but also gives photographers better control of their results. Editing software helped her hone the final image.
For her efforts, she wins a $50 gift certificate from PJ's Camera, 662 Roosevelt Road, Glen Ellyn.
The certificate will come in handy for Eldridge, a married mom of two, who says she started shooting pictures when she was a kid. She worked on her college yearbook and remained hooked when she acquired a first-generation digital camera.
During the summer, she spends much of her free time taking close-up pictures of flowers and insects. But when the weather changes, she turns her attention more to the avian world.
When she found the squabbling sparrows, she says, "I was hoping I had something."
And she did.