Our garden: bird droppings (sort of)

On Friday morning, I looked down from our upstairs porch and cursed the hawks.

For about a year now, they have had a huge nest in the tree right next to the house — and they have “feathered” it with all sorts of garbage, particularly dirty pieces of cloth and scraps of paper.  They regularly redecorate by pushing some of their treasures out over the side.

Whenever I look up, I take in the sight of what looks like someone’s old underwear lapped over a branch.

This appeared to be the worst yet — chips of styrofoam (?) all over the ground.  They really were flying pigs.

Tiny mushrooms in the grass/enclos*ure

A closer inspection, however, revealed that I had to take it all back.

Tiny mushrooms in our garden/enclos*ure

Thousands of tiny, tiny white mushrooms were in the grass and the planting bed.

Tiny mushrooms in our garden/enclos*ure

Below, the white grains under the mushrooms are yet more mushrooms.Tiny mushrooms in our garden/enclos*ure

Sorry, hawks. . . until next time.

Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid

In more news from the same tree, the weaver birds and their amazing basket nests are back.

The yellow-colored males have been building and re-building for several weeks now, chattering loudly as they work.  According to a guidebook, the males weave and the females inspect (and destroy any subpar work).

Our garden and the birds/enclos*ure(There are much nicer photos of last year’s nests here.)

I guess the girls — who are plain brown — were finally satisfied, because it recently got much quieter up there. Then, a few days ago, I started finding halves of eggshells on the grass under the tree.

Our garden and the birds/enclos*ure

Here’s my collection so far.Our garden and the birds/enclos*ure


There are birds here,
so many birds here
is what I was trying to say
when they said those birds were metaphors
for what is trapped
between buildings
and buildings. . .

Jamaal May, from “There Are Birds Here

Ruzizi Tented Lodge at Akagera National Park

After our recent drive to the southeast corner of Rwanda, we backtracked and then headed north to Akagera National Park to spend the night.

Picnic table, welcome center, Akagera Nat'l. Park in Rwanda:enclos*ure

It was about 4:30 p.m. when we arrived at the park’s welcome center, and I was anxious to get some photos before the light disappeared.  Here, near the equator, dark comes between 6:00 and 6:30 all year round.  No extra long summer days for us.

Pebble floor border, welcome center, Akagera Nat'l. Park in Rwanda:enclos*ure

I liked the pebble border to the welcome center’s concrete floor, which had been colored red, like the surrounding dirt.

Pebble floor border, welcome center, Akagera National Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

The attractive building, which for some reason I failed to photograph, was stone and stucco and had a thatched roof, like the lodge pictured below.

Long-neck weaver bird nest, Akagera Natl. Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

In a tree just outside the welcome center, there was a weaver bird nest (above) — this one with a very long entrance tunnel, a protection against predators.

Main lodge, Ruzizi Tented Lodge, Akagera Nat'l. Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

The Ruzizi Tented Lodge — which opened inside the park just this year — is on a small strip of largely undisturbed land along the edge of Lake Ihema.

Boardwalk, Ruzizi Tented Lodge, Akagera Nat'l. Park in Rwanda:enclos*ure

Boardwalks keep visitors off the native plants, not to mention away from the equally native crocodiles and hippos.  (An electric fence keeps other large animals out on the inland side of the lodge.)

Boardwalk, Ruzizi Tented Lodge, Akagera National Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

Boardwalk to tent, Ruzizi Tented Lodge, Akagera Natl. Park in Rwanda:enclos*ure

The camp has seven tented cabins, each with a full bath, one or two real beds (with reading lamps), and an outlet for recharging phones.

Tent cabin, Ruzizi Tented Lodge, Akagera Natl. Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

Below is our tent’s “front yard,” which was quite close to the water’s edge.  That night, we heard, but did not see, hippos near our tent.

Marshy edge of Lake Ihema at Ruzizi Tented Lodge, Akagera National Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

Solar panels for tents, Ruzizi Tented Lodge, Akagera National Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

Each tent has a solar panel for lights and hot water — shown above.

Wildflowers and boardwalk, Ruzizi Tented Lodge, Akagera National Park in Rwanda:enclos*ure

Even in the dry season, there were some wildflowers catching the last of the day’s light.

Wildflowers, Ruziz Tented Lodge, Akagera National Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

In the evening, we had cocktails around a fire on the riverside deck, below.

Lakeside eating area, Ruzizi Tented Lodge, Akagera National Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

Breakfast was also served there — while monkeys ate fruit off a big tree above us.

Weaver birds' nests at dusk, Ruzizi Tented Lodge, Akagera National Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

In the shrubby trees just beyond the deck, there were dozens of (empty) weaver birds’ nests.

Weaver birds' nests, Akagera Nat'l Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

Weaver birds' nests, Ruzizi Tented Lodge, Akagera Natl. Park in Rwanda:enclos*ure

Located along Rwanda’s eastern border with Tanzania, Akagera National Park presents quite a different landscape from the mountainous forests and farms of western and central Rwanda. (It is one of four large national parks in the country.)

“[I]ts undulating plains support a cover of dense, broad-leafed woodland interspersed with lighter acacia woodland and patches of rolling grassland studded evocatively with stands of the superficially cactus-like Euphorbia candelabra [aka E. ingens] shrub,” according to the Bradt guide to Rwanda.

Grass and shrubs near Ruzizi Tented Lodge, Akagera Natl. Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

There are also large wetlands surrounding several lakes and the channels of the Akagera River, which runs along the border between the two countries.

The game-viewing is not up the standards of the great savanna parks in neighboring countries, but every visitor I have talked to recently has seen elephants, hippos, zebra, and giraffes, as well as antelopes and impalas.  (Unfortunately, we did not have time to tour the park during our stay.)

Currently, there may or may not be lions and leopards in small numbers, but there are reportedly plans to restock them — and add black rhinos — eventually.

According to the Bradt guide, the birdlife is “phenomenal.”  The landscape is particularly scenic, with forests, lakes, swamps, and low mountains.  Perhaps best of all, the park is fairly empty of other tourists.

Camping (in real tents) is allowed in various locations.  It is also possible to take boat safaris on Lake Ihema.

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.