Take a walk on the wild side

An Animal Lover’s Guide To Long Island

Independent/Courtesy Long Island Aquarium

Long Island is lucky to have an array of animal encounters for everyone young and old, from Nassau to the easternmost point of the island. Here are just a few of the many exhibits, reserves, and farms where you can be face-to-face with some of your favorite wildlife companions.

Starting in Nassau County at the Center for Science, Teaching & Learning, guests can experience more than 35 different animal species from amphibians and reptiles, to birds and mammals in their natural settings. If you also love dinosaurs, you can also learn how dinosaurs once lived. Located in Rockville Centre, the Center is open every day from 10 AM to 4 PM.

The Town of Brookhaven’s Holtsville Ecology Site and Animal Preserve is a must-visit for everyone. It is home to more than 100 rehabilitated or non-releasable wild and farm animals. Animals include goats, buffalo, bald eagles, bears, bobcats, horses, pigs, cows, foxes, and its famous groundhog, Holtsville Hal, that forecasts the weather on Groundhog Day. Tours are available. Open year round, though from January 1 to March 5, it is closed on weekends and holidays.

At the Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown, there are many interactive experiences onsite for all ages, including an indoor rainforest, reptile room, and a year-round outdoor play area equipped with a sandbox, hobbit house, and see-saw. Visitors can also step inside the Butterfly Vivarium between mid-June and September. Events throughout the year include turtle walks, wildlife yoga, and creatures-of-the-night walking tours. The Center and Preserve are open daily from 9 AM to 4:30 PM.

For a trip to a beloved farm on the North Fork, visit Browder’s Birds in Mattituck when its farm stand is open Friday to Sunday from 12 to 5 PM. See its resident sheep, chickens, and ducks while picking up some of the most delicious quiches, farm fresh eggs, chicken pot pies, and more.

Independent/Xylia Serafy of South Fork Natural History Museum & Nature Center

One of, if not the most, popular destinations for animal lovers is the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead. The aquarium is home to dozens of exhibits, events, and encounters all year long. If you also love art, you must check out Painting with Pinnipeds, where you can create a custom canvas with sea lions on Sundays and Mondays. Another must-do is an encounter with the Coati brothers on Tuesdays as they interact with their favorite toys, scents, and enjoy their favorite foods.

In Bridgehampton, the South Fork Natural History Museum & Nature Center, right across the street from the Children’s Museum of the East that has its own bunny “mascot,” is home to several wildlife exhibits with turtles, salamanders, and frogs, and interactive activities with underwater creatures like horseshoe crabs, fish, and others. Its calendar is full of events all year round, including outdoor excursions to see songbirds and ocean ducks, in addition to full moon hikes, live animal shows, and bird watching cruises. In addition, the Panthera Wild Cats Multi-Media Exhibit is currently on display in the barn at the museum through December.

In our own backyard is the beloved Elizabeth A. Morton Wildlife Refuge in Sag Harbor. Open year round, this wildlife and habitat oasis allows for ideal wildlife viewing, photography, and fishing opportunities (with a New York state saltwater fishing license). Along the many trails, animals that can be spotted include eastern wild turkeys, chipmunks, deer, and black ducks. Flying above include ospreys, goldeneyes, songbirds, and bufflehead ducks, which can also be seen floating in the bay.

A trip to the very “end” of Long Island is not complete without a weekend seal walk, organized through the Montauk Point State Park. Taking place from November to approximately early April, guests are invited to experience seals in their natural habitat for a three-mile roundtrip hike where they can be seen resting on the rocks. It is essential to call to register: 631-668-2254.