NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

May 31, 2013

A festival for nature lovers

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

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.”

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