Two shiny black eyes peek through the opening of the green plants. Those eyes belong to beaver Buddha, one of the residents of the Salisbury Zoo (755 South Drive, 410-548-3188 or www.salisburyzoo.org). Curious, he moves slowly to get a better look at whom he is greeting. He climbs carefully up the fence of his cage. In the process, Buddha exposes his significantly large and furry belly.
He received his name from the woman who raised him in her bathtub. Now he seems happy to have a more natural environment to satisfy his curiosity. Nevertheless, he has kept his fondness for humans.
Most of the animals in the Salisbury Zoo are from North, Central and South America. "We have llamas, bison, bobcats, jaguars, alligators and the two oldest known spectacled bears," says Jim Rapp, the zoo director. Soon, the list will expand. The zoo is in the process of buying penguins, tapirs and kangaroos. Some enclosures will be enlarged, and the animal-service area improved.
In May, the Salisbury Zoo will celebrate its 50th birthday with a black-tie gala.
"It all started in the '50s when people dropped off animals in the City Park -- birds, deer, even a black bear," Rapp says. Cages were set up, and in the '60s a zoo commission was founded. Out of an ordinary park grew an extraordinary little zoo. The Wicomico River surrounds the woody 13-acre zoo. This setting creates a relaxing atmosphere and increases the intimacy between visitors and animals.
You might lose your fear of snakes by holding and petting the surprisingly soft skin of a ball python or a boa constrictor in the Education Animal Facility. For more information, or to schedule a tour, call 410-548-3188. The Salisbury Zoo is open daily from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Admission is free.
A different experience awaits animal lovers in The Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art (909 S. Schumaker Drive, 410-742-4988 or www.wardmuseum.org). In five galleries, a unique North American art form is on display: wildfowl carvings. The first gallery provides the background of this ancient craft, started by Native Americans. The museum is named for Lem and Steve Ward, Crisfield brothers who helped elevate decoy-carving to an art form.
"During the beginning of the American settlement, decoys were not necessary. People just used a shotgun," says Sam Dyke, director of the museum. "But decoys came in handy when waterfowl was first used for commercial hunting in the 1840s and 1850s."
Most of those early decoys were small. An exception is a huge wooden duck from New England, now sitting peacefully in its showcase, greeting visitors.
Today, wildfowl art focuses more on carving artistic decorative pieces. The work of two 2003 Ward World Champions, Larry Barth of Stahlstown, Pa., and Jason Lucio of Auburn, Ontario, are on view here.
"Just look how artistic wildfowl carving has become," Dyke says. Lucio depicts a pair of smews peacefully swimming next to one another. Barth portrays a red-billed tropicbird with very long and elegant feathers rising to the sky. The bird's red bill is open while his black eyes seem to watch visitors. Even up close, the feathers seem to be soft and almost weightless, but they are carved out of one piece of wood.
These and other pieces are on display Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $7. Stop by the Chamber Office (144 E. Main St., 410-749-0144) and get museum tickets for $3. Don't miss the new observation gallery at the Ward Museum. You might see a bald eagle fly by.
Where to eat and drink
Adam's Ribs (219 N. Fruitland Blvd. in Fruitland, 410-749-6961): It's all in the name: 1.5 miles south of Salisbury lies this delicious rib place. Not a rib lover? The menu offers seafood and sandwiches, too.
Cactus Taverna (2420 N. Salisbury Blvd., 410-548-1254): You don't have to worry about parking at this Mexican restaurant: Cactus Taverna has its own parking lot.
The Bagel Bakery (1006 S. Salisbury Blvd., 410-543-824): A healthy alternative -- try a breakfast wrap, a salad or a vegetarian sandwich.
Where to shop
Chesapeake East Ceramic Studio (501 W. Main St., 800-320-RUBY): Owner Dana Simson and her husband, John Orth, rebuilt the dilapidated Franklin Hotel into a ceramic studio. In 2,000 square feet, visitors will find skillfully made ceramic boxes with white rabbits, colorful smiling birdhouses and sunflower clocks with black-crow pendulums.
The Country House (805 E. Main St., 410-749-1959): The store is filled with wooden furniture, quilts, pottery, florals, linen, birdhouses and collectibles.
Market Street Antiques & Collectibles (150 W. Market St., 410-749-4111): Three floors of wares from different dealers include art deco, fountain pens, coins, jewelry, books and prints, and a taxidermist.
Aesop's Table (124 N. Division St., 410-546-4471): In need of a coffee but not finished looking for antiques? Take a break here.
Salisbury is about 2 1/2 hours from Baltimore. Take Interstate 97 South to U.S. 50 East and cross the Bay Bridge. Follow U.S. 50 to Salisbury. Turn left on Beaglin Park Drive in Salisbury. Follow the signs to the zoo. To visit the Ward Museum, stay on Beaglin Park Drive until you see a large goose sign on the left.
The Wicomico County Convention and Visitors Bureau is on U.S. 13, north of Salisbury (8480 Ocean Highway in Delmar, 410-548-4914 or 800-332-TOUR; www.wicomicotourism.org).