An Off-Season View of the NC Zoo

NC_Zoo_EntranceAs someone who enjoys taking pictures, I’m always on a quest for new places to photograph. On a trip to Charlotte recently, I decided to stop at the North Carolina Zoological Park in Asheboro along the way. (It’s open daily, year-round, with the exception of Christmas day.)

The park, which is a natural habitat for more than 1600 animals, is divided into two main areas: North America and Africa. (The Africa exhibit was closed for the season.) With only three hours to spare, I still managed to see a great deal.


The 500 acre NC Zoo is a series of connected trails. A tram runs during the peak season, but not during the off season. Translated: Be prepared to do some walking! Or perhaps move your car to another lot as you make your way around the park. — Asheboro, NC


At the Cypress Swamp, I saw alligators “doing what alligators do” — floating in the water or lounging lazily on the bank … with plenty of distance and railing between us! (NC Zoo)

The trail by the swamp meets up with the Marsh, which then leads toward the Rocky Coast, where such creatures as harbor seals, (who took off with a loud “swoosh” and put on quite an impromptu water show for me), and Anna the polar bear live. Reportedly, Anna came to the doorway of one of her caves but promptly turned around and went back inside—according to another zoo visitor who was eager to spot her, too.

Slightly disappointed that Anna was not in the mood to be gazed upon, I headed to the Prairie where I spotted two black bears and (smelled before I saw) bison and elk. I took some pictures of them, as well as a large, lazy grizzly bear; however, fences, cages and zoo equipment take a certain something-something away from such photos. As I result, I’m less than enthusiastic to show them. (This is purely an artistic obstinance on my part. The animals appear well cared for.)

Much further down the trail—the park is amazingly (delightfully, even) natural and expansive—I came upon the Sonora Desert Pavilion, home to free-range birds and not-so-free-range-for-our-own-protection animals such as the ocelot (which is a small leopard). Again, I can’t bring myself to post the picture I took of the ocelot, but I will show you a couple of dears who stole my heart:

The sweet faces of two burrowing owls peered up at me when I entered the glass-domed Sonora Desert exhibit. Burrowing owls are naturally found in both North and South America. — NC Zoo

I spent a great deal of time watching the owls. They could turn their heads almost completely around!

I reluctantly pulled myself away and continued on past the Honey Bee Garden toward my last stop, the Forest Aviary. This final frontier was quite an experience: a jungle of plants and flowers and trees, with birds of all colors, shapes and sizes flying and roaming about. The chirping and calling heightened the experience to a walking-among-them level. (Warning: When you walk among them, beware that certain birds may do a “certain something” when perched above your head. Yeh. That “certain something” missed me by about a foot. Thankfully.)

Here are some of the beauties that I saw:


Pink Flamingos greeted me outside the aviary. –NC Zoo


Inside, the first bird I spotted was a Fairy Blue Bird from Southeast Asia.


The Nicobar Pigeon is found on the Nicobar Islands, a chain of islands in the Indian Ocean. — NC Zoo


This Purple Glossy Starling, from Southeast Asia, was glossy indeed!


Like many of the birds I saw at the NC Zoo, I had never seen a South American Scarlet Ibis before.


Is it just me, or is there something sweet about this Marbled Teal? Teals of this type make their home in the Mediterranean, Asia, and Africa. — NC Zoo


With all the exotic birds flying over head, it was almost possible to take for granted the tropical plants below, such as this “Blue Tango” Aechmea Bromeliad. Their brilliance, however, added to the natural habitat. — NC Zoo


The Tropical Aviary boasts over 3,000 plants in all. Pictured here is a Red Ginger. — NC Zoo


The very vocal Turquoise Tanager hails from South America.


I couldn’t believe my eyes when I spotted this Victoria Crowned Pigeon “hiding” among the plants. This unique,  quite large pigeon is a ground-dweller and is native to New Guinea. — NC Zoo

I was so intent on getting a good picture of the Victoria Crowned Pigeon that I lost a sense of my surroundings. When I turned around, this little fella was at my feet on the footpath!


Sunbitterns, like this one, live in Central and South America. — NC Zoo

This pretty bird, an Eclectus Parrot, looked like a real stinker. (Note the stink eye.) A sign near the door warned not to touch her because she might bite. (That’s believable.) Parrots such as this one are native to Australia, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. — NC Zoo

After making several rounds of the aviary—I saw something new every round!—it was time to head down the road. I retraced my steps through the park—it’s not circular and it took me nearly twenty minutes of brisk walking with few stops. This time I noted some of the sign-posted history and artwork that augment the animals.

All in all, it’s a very well-done zoo. It’s natural and not very flashy, but those qualities are what make it a more realistic, less contrived glimpse at some of the wild and wonderful creatures that grace our planet.

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