Living in the shadow of the much larger and admission-free National Zoo, it's easy to see why the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore is frequently overlooked. Having had the chance at last to visit it, however, I can confirm that it contains a few gems and has sufficiently little overlap with the National Zoo to make it at least worth considering as a travel destination.
For reasons unknown to me, the bulk of the zoo's exhibits are found some distance away from the entrance and need to be reached either on foot or via shuttle. One of the few displays that can be found near the entrance is a well-populated black-tailed prairie dog enclosure. A good choice for first impressions, as the ground squirrels were quite delightful, particularly the juveniles.
Another nearby display houses African birds, among them this obliging Abyssinian ground hornbill. The real dinosauroid.
The main portion of the zoo is divided into three loop trails. The shortest of these trails has a focus on arctic animals, including polar bears and ravens. Most memorably, it took some time for me to get even a halfway decent shot of this arctic fox.
My friend Ben found this wild brown snake on our way to the next loop trail.
The second loop trail featured local Maryland wildlife, including an aviary with many native bird species. Here is a green heron.
Diving ducks are always charming, and these ruddy ducks were no exception. As a bonus, we got to see the males in their breeding colors, an unlikely prospect in the wild considering they only winter here.
One of the ruddy ducks feeding alongside a pair of wood ducks.
A little blue heron.
A sandhill crane.
A turkey vulture.
Wild snakes were out in force that day, as we saw three northern water snakes (one not pictured) chilling in the aviary.
Not one of the wild snakes we saw, but a captive copperhead.
Some box turtles had a surprisingly spacious exhibit (which is not evident from my photo).
A pair of trumpeter swans.
The final and longest loop trail is devoted to Africa. Likely the best exhibits in the zoo are found here, including a nice display housing sitatunga and these African crowned cranes.
We observed these chimpanzees using sticks to pull surrounding leaves and bamboo shoots into their enclosure for consumption.
I was surprised to see okapis at this zoo. They share a giraffid house with giraffes, though their exhibits are unfortunately quite plain.
More aesthetically pleasing was this grassy habitat for addra gazelles and saddle-billed storks.
An African aviary nearby contained blue-bellied rollers that were more than willing to show off their acrobatic flying style.
A pair of Von der Decken's hornbills.
A pair of African pygmy geese, among the smallest waterfowl in the world. According to exhibit signs, there is also a blue duiker living in the aviary that decided to be a no-show. The omnivorous tendencies of duikers make me wonder how safe it is to keep one with birds.
A wild spotted sandpiper hanging out in the rhinoceros exhibit. (It probably says something about me that I took a picture of a common bird but not of the rhino...)
A small, easily-missed display is home to some very delicate-looking Kirk's dik-diks.
Living alongside the lap-sized antelope are demoiselle cranes.
The centerpiece of the zoo is a large pool for black-footed penguins. Also present is a volant species of diving bird that lives in the same region in the wild, the white-breasted cormorant.
We passed by the penguin pool just in time to see them being fed. A wild herring gull hung around nearby in hopes of getting some scraps.