Beautiful day birding at Brazos Bend!

We had a fantastic day at Brazos Bend! We hiked Live Oak Trail, Pilant Sough Trail, Spillway Trail and part of 40 Acre Trail Lake. The weather was great, it was a little overcast and sprinkled rain for just a few minutes but the breezes were cool. Here’s a link to the trail map. The birds and gators did NOT disappoint. We even saw a snake which completely grosses me out.

Brazos Bend is located at 21901 FM 762 Rd, Needville, TX 77461 and adult admission is $7. I can tell you the admission fee was completely justified as soon as we photograped the owl and owlet. It was a dream come true! Brazos Bend State Park is a 4,897-acre state park along the Brazos River in Needville, Texas, run by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. It has bathrooms, benches, water bottle fill station, playgrounds, fishing piers, camping and more.

I can’t stress this enough – please be so careful around the alligators. GIVE THEM ROOM! We have YET to make a trip without witnessing an overzealous parent pushing their child towards an alligator for a photo opportunity.

Check out our photos, we’d love to know what you think!

Snowy egret

Birds in Houston! Birding in the backyard!

I wanted to compile a simple list of all the birds I’ve seen in Houston. Trust me, there’s more than you ever thought! I would have never imagined that birding could be so wonderful and fulfilling – most of which I can photograph in my own yard or backyard. This so far has been an AMAZING journey and we’ve only just begun. I’m running a Nikon D3500 with a Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary for most of these photographs.

American goldfinch
American robi
American robin
American pipit
Bald eagle, female
Bald eagle, juvenile
Bald eagle, male
Black-capped chickadee
Black vulture
Blue jay
Blue jay
Brown-headed cowbird
Carolina wren
Carolina wren
Cedar waxwing
Cedar waxwings
Common starling
Common starling
Coopers hawk
Coopers hawk
Downy woodpecker
Eastern bluebirds
Eastern bluebird
Eastern phoebe
Eastern phoebe
Great blue heron
Great blue heron
Great egret and a Double-crested cormorant
Great egret (white) and a Double-crested cormorant (black)
Great-tailed grackle
Great-tailed grackle
House sparrow
House sparrow
Northern cardinal, female - Houston
Northern cardinal, female
Northern cardinal, male
Northern cardinal, male
Northern crested caracara
Northern crested caracara
Northern mockingbird
Northern mockingbird
Pine warbler
Pine warbler
Red-headed woodpecker
Red-bellied woodpecker
Red-shouldered hawk
Red-shouldered hawk
Snowy egret
Snowy egret
Tufted titmouse
Tufted titmouse
Turkey vulture
Turkey vulture
White-winged dove
Yellow-rumped warbler
Yellow-rumped warbler

Edited on 3/7 to add the American pipit, Black vulture, Brown-headed cowbird and a White-winged dove

Edited on 3/15 to add Downy woodpecker, Bald eagles, Black-capped chickadee and American goldfinch.

Telephoto showdown: $100 Big Mike’s 500/1000mm Vs $1000 Sigma 150-600mm

A few weeks ago we went out to Huntsville State Park to get a chance to take some shots with the Sigma 150-600mm. It was awesome and we got some great photos. I thought it would be a great opportunity to use the 500mm manual lens I bought from Amazon a while back for the lunar eclipse. The day started out a little rough getting used to a lack of autofocus but was much smoother toward the end. I really wanted to do a comparison of this lens against one that is ten times the cost, and see just how good can a person do with a $100 lens. Is it really the way everyone says and the key is not having the best equipment, but to be the best with the equipment you have?

Big Mike’s 500/1000mm f/8 Manual Telephoto Lens for Nikon

Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary for Nikon

2x Magnifier to take the Sigma to 1200mm (click here to read our review of the 2x Magnifier – IT IS A GAME CHANGER.) Also, those links are affiliate links but do NOT cost you anything to click.

Mike’s @ 500mm
Sigma @ 600mm

We started out in a bird blind and that gave me a great opportunity to put my camera on a tripod and get used to how the lens operates. I found it very difficult to get decent shots of the birds we were looking at. Perhaps the 2x magnifier will help? It really didn’t and just seemed to add edge blur to everything. It was always like you were right on the edge of getting a crystal clear photo but the lens just couldn’t do it.

Mike’s @ 1000mm
Mike’s @ 500mm
Sigma @ 600mm

We moved from the bird blind and drove to a trail head for a little hike. We had hoped to see some different birds that one wouldn’t necessarily find next to a body of water, but alas they were not to be found. Not to let a good photo opportunity go to waste we began to take photos of the trail, and each other taking photos of the trail, and that’s when I had an epiphany.

Mike’s @ 500mm
Sigma @ 600mm

At the bird blind the subjects were pretty far away, somewhere between 100-150 yards. The images were ok, but lack the detail you would really want from those types of photos. On the trail, subjects were much, much closer. I noticed my images suddenly had more detail and clarity. So naturally, I began to experiment. I found this particular lens, on my particular camera, it may be different from user to user, has a sweet spot around 75-100 ft. It does have an EXTREMELY shallow depth of field, even with the aperture stopped down.

Mike’s @ 500mm
Sigma @ 500mm

If you have the patience, or maybe you want to get better as a photographer, you can certainly get this lens dialed in for some great shots.

Mike’s @ 500mm
Sigma @ 600mm

I found the lens to be very easy to use handheld at 500mm because the lens weights almost nothing. With the 2x magnifier on you need a tripod, or at the very minimum a monopod. After a few hours using it I was actually pretty proficient with it and was able to get some birds in flight. It seemed to do better with more light, the day was somewhat cloudy at times, so it’s probably best on sunny days or with great lighting.

Mike’s @ 500mm
Mike’s @ 500mm

If you are looking for a telephoto lens that doesn’t break the bank, you have the patience to learn how to use this lens and plan out where you will be able to take the best photos for this lens, I would highly recommend it. Of course, I don’t expect to see any photos in National Geographic using this lens, but for social media, I think it will do just fine. All images provided are the RAW file and HAVE NOT been edited for proper comparison.

Mike’s @ 500mm
Sigma @ 600mm
Mike’s @ 500mm
Mike’s @ 500mm

We listed some affiliate links above – they do not cost YOU anything to click.

Sigma 150-600mm with a 2x Magnifier with the Nikon!

I was already in love with the 150-600mm lens, head over heels, couldn’t get enough – in love with it. Then, the 2x Magnifier that we ordered for the Sigma 150-600mm arrived and took my emotions to an entirely new level.

THESE ARE ALL SHOTS FROM OUR BACKYARD!

Nikon D3500 with 2x Magnifier and the Sigma 150-600mm, also a Cardinal

Two cons about the magnifier:

  1. When you’re out at 1200mm, it’s hard to find your subject. I think this is implied and probably strikes you as common sense BUT, the constant rotation of zooming in and zooming back out is a little cumbersome to find your target – it works though!
  2. I had trouble focusing on the birds. They are so incredibly fast as it is, but I missed more than a couple shots just trying to get them into focus. Lots of rotating the lens to try and get the picture how I wanted it and then increasing the zoom.
Nikon D3500 with 2x Magnifier and the Sigma 150-600mm, also Eastern Bluebird

The Eastern bluebird was shot from my backyard! I was so shocked that the lens got it at all, much less captured the colors.

Nikon D3500 with 2x Magnifier and the Sigma 150-600mm, also an American robin

The detail is incredible! You can see the fuzz on his beak! This magnifier is everything and I can’t wait to really get out and use it. Texas living is amazing! I am so incredibly happy with this magnifier. Purchase it here from Amazon. Here’s also the link to the Sigma 15-600mm. (It’s an affiliate link but that does NOT cost you anything.)

Nikon D3500 with 2x Magnifier and the Sigma 150-600mm, also a female Cardinal