NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

May 31, 2013

A festival for nature lovers

Audubon sanctuary showcases its local wildlife, habitats in family-friendly event this weekend

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — Visitors to the Audubon Nature Festival at the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary this Sunday will get a good whiff of the wetlands.

“I’m going to try to create the ambience,” said property manager Richard Wolniewicz, who is creating exhibits for this weekend’s festival. “That’s what we want, to have people smell the plants.”

One exhibit will include the aptly named skunk cabbage, which may move some people to hold their noses.

“But on the other side, we have sweet gale, which smells a little like rosemary,” Wolniewicz said.

Indeed, the foliage from this shrub is so fragrant, it is traditionally used in royal wedding bouquets in England.

The exhibits, which will be displayed in aquariums and pool liners in the nature center, will re-create the different types of wetlands on this Massachusetts Audubon Society property in Topsfield.

“This sanctuary is 2,000 acres, and 80 percent of it is wetlands,” Wolniewicz said. “That includes flood plains, marsh, swamp, ponds and vernal pools, and all of them have characteristic plants and animals.”

Amphibians and reptiles have always been displayed at the nature festival, but this year, Wolniewicz will include more features — and creatures — from the settings where they live.

“The thought was to expand it, to include habitat, and all of them have characteristic plants and animals,” he said. “To tell the whole story, instead of just showing an American toad, we’ll show an American toad in a habitat, and in relation to other things, so people can see how important wetlands are and how diverse they are.”

Along with sense of smell, the exhibits will try to engage visitors’ hearing.

“A lot of times we have sounds of animals in there, too, of frogs and raccoons,” Wolniewicz said. “That light of recognition goes off in their eyes, and they say, ‘That’s what I heard in my backyard,’ and they make the connection.”

Sense of touch, and even taste, will be stimulated by the exhibits.

“We want people to feel the texture of these plants, like fiddlehead ferns from the ostrich ferns,” Wolniewicz said. Fiddleheads are ferns of several kinds, at a point early in spring when their fronds are curled up tight, like the head of a violin.

Although there won’t be any cooking demonstrations, fiddleheads are delicious when sauteed with butter and wine, and Wolniewicz will provide that information in labels.

“Culinary seems to be a great way to make a connection with them,” he said. “We’ll put labels on everything, with tidbits of information, to encourage people to experience it for themselves. Anything to invite conversation by visitors.”

Pamphlets will also be provided that show where different types of wetlands can be found in the sanctuary, so visitors can explore on their own, on foot or by canoe.

The nature center exhibits are only one element of the daylong festival, which will also feature a return visit from Eyes on Owls, presented by Marcia and Mark Wilson. Several species of owls will be introduced, in three half-hour shows that will each be followed by sessions where the audience can “meet the owls” close-up.

The Wilsons’ owls have been treated for injuries — usually inflicted by cars — but their voices and regal bearing are intact.

The festival will also include displays on everything from organic farming, fly tying, basket weaving and wool spinning to how to use red worms to make a rich soil additive.

Programs throughout the day will include an introduction to paddle strokes for maneuvering a canoe, pond walks with a naturalist to discover creatures and plants that live in water, and a hike to the rockery, the property’s grotto built from boulders.

The water next to this site is home to a colony of beavers, whose life cycle will be examined.

Activities will include a scavenger hunt, building a suet feeder for birds, and admiring tree swallows and bluebirds through spotting scopes.

“There’s a lot of ways to enjoy the outdoors,” Wolniewicz said. “It’s great habitat and great for recreation, too.”

IF YOU GO

What: Audubon Nature Festival

When: Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with Eyes on Owls at 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Rain or shine.

Where: Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, Perkins Row, Topsfield

Admission: $12 per car

More information: 978-887-9264