From creek walks & crayfish, to forests & bald eagle nests, there are millions of reasons to explore one of Buffalo Niagara’s many nature preserves.

by Meg Bennett

Hummingbird at Tifft Nature Preserve. @mark_davis_wild_photography

Traversing Tifft

It was a vibrant spring morning, full of sun and glittering ponds. The trees were viridescent and the sky peppered with fluffy cumulus clouds. It was the perfect day to explore Tifft Nature Preserve, a wooded and marshy park located near Buffalo’s Outer Harbor.

Growing up in the country, I had taken for granted how often I had encountered wild animals in my own backyard. Now raising a family in the suburbs, I was longing for the opportunity to give my kids a bigger taste for the wilderness and the sense of freedom that it evokes.

I was also tired of feeling cooped up after a brisk winter and ready to help my kids burn off energy with a nice, long walk, and maybe get the chance to flex my amateur photography skills.

As we pulled into the parking lot, my excitement grew. For us, Tifft Nature Preserve was brand new territory. I felt like an explorer gearing up for discovery, or a pioneer staring into the unknown with family in tow. I slung my backpack over my shoulder, pretending for a moment that our supplies were more romantic than diapers and peanut butter sandwiches, and then we set off on our expedition.

What’s Good for the Goose

Along the southern shore of Lake Kristy, fishermen patiently eyed the shimmering water, their fishing poles swinging like lassos in want of a fine catch. Ahead of us stood the Tifft Nature Preserve Environmental Education Center, where soon we would encounter interactive exhibits and creative taxidermy to warm us up for our forthcoming adventure. My kids were excited to scrape off their shoes at the boot brush station, walk across a little wooden bridge, and peer over the railing in search of turtles and tadpoles. As we wandered around, they searched for a “secret” place among the saplings in which to hide and play pretend.

We navigated the trails easily thanks to our Nature Center map, which guided us through the woods, around ponds, and across marshes. The marshes were teeming with green frogs camouflaged by algae. We studied them from the boardwalk; they plunked and plopped under the water much too quickly for little hands reaching.

At the view blind, we were a little disappointed to see only Canadian geese floating by- a sight far too common in Buffalo Niagara to be exciting.

Osprey enjoying the afternoon seafood platter at Tifft Nature Preserve. © Tony Dvorak Creative Studios

Suddenly, a large bird swooped down from the trees! It landed on a patch of logs in the middle of the swamp. It froze in a majestic pose, still as a statue as though waiting for a photograph (and yet a little too out-of-reach for my poor old camera phone).

We learned later on that the bird was probably one of the locally famous ospreys, which have earned their own camera on the preserve’s website. It was indeed a special moment for us.

We gazed across the open expanse and saw rustic, abandoned factory buildings in the distance. You would think that an industrial sight such as this would be unwelcome there in Mother Nature’s garden, but it was not- I found it rather enchanting, actually. The contrast was ethereal, a quiet reminder that the roots of human progress are shallow in comparison to those of the natural world.

Such footprints of the past tell a story with an ever-present theme: we cannot outgrow that which gives us life.

Expect the Unexpected

I was startled out of my musings by a flying insect. It was larger than my thumb, fuzzy, and with black and yellow stripes. It flew so swiftly that I could not get a closer look, though I was not sure that I wanted to- it looked like a gigantic bee! I had never seen a bee so shockingly large. As nervous as I was, I could not help but marvel at the opportunity to see a creature completely new to me, one that I had not even known existed.

Later I discovered that the creature was not in fact a bee- it was a hummingbird moth. Surely, I would never have seen one in Buffalo Niagara had I never visited a local nature preserve.

From time to time, my family and I still visit Tifft Nature Preserve. I love seeing the Bat Cloud (a canopy of hanging habitats for bats, to increase public awareness and visibility). I also love taking panoramic shots on the mini peninsula at Beth Pond, dreaming up creative stories for children inspired by wildflowers and hidden places, and trying to identify woodland bird songs.

Meeting of the minds at Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve in Depew

More to Explore

My family and I visit a few other nature preserves in the area as well. I love jogging along the trails at Clarence Nature Center while my kids construct teepees out of sticks and my husband teaches them how to find salamanders under rocks. My son, a budding nature enthusiast, has fond memories of a field trip to Reinstein Woods, where he answered every question that the tour guide threw at the class, earning my innocent husband a look of suspicion.

Penn Dixie Fossil Park & Nature Preserve is another one worth mentioning- because has there ever been a child who did not love hunting for prehistoric treasure? (We have not been to Penn Dixie yet, but my children have brought home Penn Dixie fossils from school. It is on our bucket list!)

From creek walks and crayfish to forest hikes and bald eagle nests, there are a million different reasons to get a little wild this spring. If your family is like mine and you love spending time outdoors, then check out our definitive list of local nature preserves in Buffalo Niagara below.

Nature Preserves in Buffalo Niagara

choose any location to see nature preserve information, get directions, & more.

What do you think of our guide to nature preserves in Buffalo Niagara? Know a great one that we missed? What’s the weirdest/funniest thing that ever happened to you or someone you know while out exploring? Give us the goods.