Tan is the color of the season

Not much is happening in our garden these days — except that the lawn becomes more and more tan-colored as the long dry season continues.

This year, we stopped watering it about the end of June. It seemed wrong to maintain green grass while the hills in our view were brown, and some city neighborhoods were having their water cut off during the daytime.

Our garden in the dry season/enclos*ure

Above is a view of the upper and lower lawns.

I took these pictures this morning.  The sky was actually full of grey, rather menacing clouds (and dusty haze), and there was some wind.   This is not unusual for August, but we haven’t had any rain since May, except very briefly about three weeks ago and almost all night two weeks ago. That last one was nice, and the grass seemed to get a little greener within 12 hours, but it didn’t last.   The long rainy season normally begins in early September.

We do still water the flower borders, although not very generously.  Kniphofia, daylilies, gerbera daisies, lantana, Missouri primrose, and small shrub roses are blooming steadily.  But, of course, most plants are in a “holding pattern” and not really increasing in size.  I want to make some changes and additions to the borders, but I’ll wait until we have a rain or two.  Then, we need to work quickly before the soil becomes too soggy.

Below is the lower lawn, looking south at the steps at the center of the lawn. Actually, the tan is kind of pretty.

Our garden in the dry season/enclos*ure

Below, a closeup.  I know it will come back, but it’s hard not to get out the sprinkler.Our garden in the dry season/enclos*ure

Below,  from the upper lawn, looking back across the lawn to the northwest — with a hazy view of central Kigali.

Our garden in the dry season/enclos*ure

I’ve been working more on the vegetable garden lately.  This summer winter, we’ve divided it into many small* raised beds instead of a few really large ones.  It’s easier to manage now, and the kale, strawberries, basil, dill, arugula, lettuce, and rosemary are doing well — in the photo below.

Our garden in the dry season/enclos*ure

That’s one of our two compost piles in the back.  You can just see a bamboo pole sticking out of it.  I pull the pole out occasionally and feel it.  If it’s warm and damp, the pile should be cooking nicely.

Below are my still-green cherry tomatoes; I planted both red and yellow.  The plants look good now, but when the rains start, they may suffer from too little sun and too much water. The dry season (with watering) is a good time for tomatoes and basil, but I should have started them sooner.Our garden in the dry season/enclos*ure

Finally, below, this is a little sad.  It’s an child’s stuffed toy — no head, no legs — that the hawks in the tree above pushed out of their nest.

Toy dropped by hawk/enclos*ure

The nest is at least 3′ across and seems to be made of as much waste paper and cloth as of sticks and twigs.  A few weeks ago, I found someone’s bank statement under the tree, complete with name, account number, and balance.  It’s now shredded and in the compost pile; I gave this little fellow a burial there too.

When we get our first big rain and wind storm, I expect to be picking up all sorts of things.

*3′ or 4′ x 5′ (more or less)

Our garden: baskets in the trees

Your head is a living forest
full of song birds.

e.e. cummings

Weaver birds' nests in Rwanda/enclos*ure

During the last several months, a colony of weaver birds has been living in a pair of tall trees at the end of the front terrace.

Now I am not much of a birdwatcher, but I do love baskets.

Weaver birds' nests in Rwanda/enclos*ure

Attach some handles, and we have got the beginnings of a small income-producing cooperative.

I estimate that they built two to three dozen nests, mostly in the tree on the left below.

Weaver birds' nests in Rwanda/enclos*ure

I  haven’t seen the birds for a few weeks, so they may have moved on.  The ones I noticed earlier looked like large brown sparrows — which some experts put in the same bird family of Ploceidae.

Weaver birds' nests in Rwanda/enclos*ure

However, I may have been seeing only the females.  Most Ploceus weavers “display a strong sexual dimorphism,” according to the Bradt guide book for Rwanda: the females are brown, and the males are often predominately yellow and can have a black facial mask.  I have seen yellow birds like that around the garden, but I hadn’t connected them with the nest-building group.

Weaver birds' nests in Rwanda/enclos*ure

According to the guide book, 21 of the 101 African weaver species live in Rwanda.

Weaver birds' nest in Rwanda/enclos*ure

Several of the nests have fallen, so I’ve been able to get a better look at the weaving.  I found this one, in the photos above and below, just yesterday.

According to the Bradt* guide book,

[i]t can be fascinating to watch a male weaver at work. First, a nest site is chosen, usually at the end of a thin hanging branch or frond, which is immediately stripped of leaves to protect against snakes. The weaver then flies back and forth to the site, carrying the building material blade by blade in its heavy beak, first using a few thick strands to hang a skeletal nest from the end of a branch, then gradually completing the structure by interweaving numerous thinner blades of grass into the main frame. Once completed, the nest is subjected to the attention of his chosen partner, who will tear it apart if the result is less than satisfactory, and so the process starts all over again.

The first photo at the top of this post shows a part of a nest in the lower left side.  It may have been a victim of one episode of this “Nest Hunters Rwanda.”

Weaver birds' nest in Rwanda/enclos*ure

Above: a closer look at the weaving around the entrance hole — which I have seen placed anywhere along the side of the nest, from near the top to almost at the bottom.

Weaver birds' nest in Rwanda/enclos*ure

I took the photos of this fallen nest, above and below, a few weeks ago.

Weaver birds' nest in Rwanda/enclos*ure

Looking in the entrance hole above, it looks like there is a partial internal basket as well (you can see the top just right of center of the picture; the nest is on its side).

Weaver birds' nest in Rwanda/enclos*ure

Above: I pulled this one apart — which was not easy — to see how many of my garden plants I could identify.  I see pine needles, some acacia tree leaves, and lemongrass.  They may have also pulled strips off the leaves of the traveler’s palms and the heliconias.

About the same time, two hawk-like birds built a very large, but more conventional, nest in one of the same two trees.  The pair are brown and have an almost 3′ wingspan (and evidently don’t eat weaver birds).

Hawks' nest in Rwanda/enclos*ure

See the strip of white cloth woven through the side of the nest in the photo above?  For a couple of months, I’ve been finding all kinds of trash near the foot of this tree.  It was a really annoying mystery until I spotted the nest and realized that the birds must weave in bits of cloth, plastic, and paper.

I haven’t seen the couple in a few days, but yesterday, I saw a smaller version of them on another tree in the garden. [August addendum:  They’re still there, but no sign of young ones.]

April 17, 2014:  The weaver birds are back; more here.

Birds were the original architects, creating fantastic and extreme examples of blobitecture and parametric design long before any architecture critic labeled these styles. They are also summa cum laude engineers, able to transform cheap, insubstantial building materials into the most durable and cozy of homes.

— Chee Pearlman, in “Twigitecture,” The New York Times

*Rwanda, The Bradt Travel Guide, by Philip Briggs and Janice Booth.  And I have decided that I really need to order the Princeton Field Guides’ The Birds of East Africa.