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What to make of this picture? A swan spreading its wings? Or maybe the wings of an angel in terra cotta, floating on water.

Turns out it’s a gull at Seattle’s Matthews Beach, something any park visitor might see on a Sunday stroll.

Only Gloria Zmuda Nagler saw it with a different lens.

The shot of the bird, with its head concealed, she said, looked like an abstract picture, an image different from the 900 bird shots she had snapped on that cold November afternoon. On a hunch, she submitted it to The Seattle Times.

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Her simple, symmetrical composition of that gull is the grand-prize winner among The Seattle Times’ Reader Photos of the Year for 2014.

Nagler, who enrolled in photography classes at Shoreline Community College just to learn the basics, laughed when told she had won. “I didn’t even know what an f-stop was.”

An attorney, Nagler for years juggled her full-time practice while raising her son by herself in Lake Forest Park. After she sent him off to Whitman College in Walla Walla in a teary goodbye 15 years ago, Nagler found time to pick up a hobby. “I wanted to do something that was right-brain, something creative.”

She took piano lessons but couldn’t master anything “beyond Chopsticks.” Photography came more naturally.

She practiced by hanging bird feeders in her backyard and shot hummingbirds and spotted towhees in flight.

“I’m too shy to ask people if I can take their picture. With animals, I can take as many pictures as I want. I don’t have to get them to sign a model release.”

Seattle’s Matthews Beach Park is her favorite place, especially during the fall and winter when crowds are sparse and sea birds reclaim the shores.

In the North End, recreationists flock to Magnuson Park, the city’s second largest park. But at nearby Matthews Beach, Nagler and her now-husband, John Lewis, have this 22-acre park to themselves on most afternoons, she said. The couple walks along the shore every weekend, her husband watching their corgi while she shoots with her Canon 5D Mark III.

Nagler, who won a $250 gift card from Glazer’s Camera courtesy of The Seattle Times, plans to use that prize to help pay for a 600mm lens she’s been eyeing.

The park is often filled with eagles, ducks and cormorants, but one bird caught her eye that Sunday afternoon. She likes to photograph birds when they rise and beat their wings. This time a common gull, perhaps channeling its inner swan, made for a winning image.

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @tanvinhseattle