For anyone who loves wildlife, a trip to the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield on Sunday could be as good as a trip to the zoo. Maybe better.
A broad range of creatures that crawl, swim or fly in Essex County will not only be displayed, but can be examined in their native habitats at the sanctuary's 15th Audubon Nature Festival.
These will include macroinvertebrates, which live at the bottom of the Ipswich River.
"We'll do some dip netting to scoop up vegetation and use equipment to look for some animals that live in wetlands," said Scott Santino, sanctuary naturalist and day camp director. "There are a lot of immature insect species — dragonfly nymphs, damselfly nymphs — and insects, including water striders and whirlygig beetles."
"The emphasis is having kids take a look at what makes an insect an insect: the body parts and number of legs and life cycle — when it becomes an adult," Santino said.
The herp tent — herpetology is the study of amphibians and reptiles — will include frogs and salamanders, painted turtles, and snapping and musk turtles, all of which can be found in the sanctuary.
"Musk turtles have a dome shape; they're smaller. You might mistake them for a snapping turtle," said Sue Baeslack, education coordinator at the sanctuary.
Garter snakes, northern water snakes, milk snakes and ring-necked snakes, all of which normally like to get lost in stone walls and piles of leaves, will share the limelight.
"The ring-necked snake is pretty. They're small, dark gray and have a yellow band around their necks," Baeslack said.
There will be a visit from Mark and Marcia Wilson of Eyes on Owls, with a program featuring six or seven owl species.
"They range from a small screech owl to the largest type in the world, the Eurasian eagle owl," Mark Wilson said.
The latter weighs almost 10 pounds and has a wingspan of close to 6 feet, although none of the birds will be flying back and forth.
That's because the Wilsons' owls all suffer from disabilities, often as a result of having been hit by cars.
"We take owls that have flunked out of rehab," several of which have been treated at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, Mark Wilson said.
Their voices are in perfect shape, however, and the Wilsons will conduct a recital of owl hoots, teaching the audience to identify species by their calls.
"They don't all hoot. Some toot. It's more of a whistle, almost like a truck backing up in the woods," Mark Wilson said. "Screech owls don't screech. It sounds almost like a horse whinnying. The bigger owls hoot."
In addition to animals and insects, the festival will feature vendors whose products — such as soaps and baskets, beeswax candles, and honey — are made with all-natural ingredients.
Sustainable services will also be promoted, including indoor and outdoor composting, rainwater collection, and wool spinning.
Fly-tying demonstrations will be held for fishermen, and the sanctuary's canoes, which normally may be used only by Audubon members, will be available to everyone to rent.
In addition, the festival will celebrate not only the creatures who live at the sanctuary but also the land and water that sustains them.
The property where the sanctuary's nature center and offices stand was once used extensively by Native Americans.
It was also prized as a source of hay when it was owned by Simon Bradstreet, a governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
The festival will include visits to the rockery, a grotto constructed beside a pond on the property by Thomas Proctor, who bought the land in 1898 with money inherited from his father. Boulders from Rowley and Byfield were brought in and assembled at the site over nine years by a team of Italian immigrants.
Proctor planned to plant one of every tree in North America at the rockery, and while it isn't known how far he got with his plans, there are beautiful rhododendron bushes there today.
Beavers now live in the nearby pond, and the rockery visit will also consider the population of these animals at the sanctuary.
If you go
What: Audubon Nature Festival
When: Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., rain or shine
Where: Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, Perkins Row, Topsfield
Admission: $12 per car
More information: 978-887-9264 www.massaudubon.org/ipswichriver