by Joanna Hewitt-Stubbs
Our Kilifi Garden on the Kenyan coast has become refuge for a number of unusual avian visitors in the last two years.
The woodland behind our house, part of a subdivision of farmland, has been invaded and an increasing number of claimants have staked out patches and erected small dwellings out of timber hewn from our plots and those of other landowners.
With their habitat destroyed, the kingfishers, wood doves, coucals and barbets, greenbuls and fly-catchers, an African Harrier Hawk, a Black Sparrow Hawk and other smaller accipiters, Water Thick knee and a flock of guinea fowl congregate almost daily in the treed sanctuary of our homestead.
Theirs has become a precarious existence. The resident Verreaux Eagle Owl pair pause on their night run for food — but where do they hunt? The open ground where they capture hedgehogs and rodents has been overrun; the occupants there illegally and encouraged by politicians seeking votes. The grey duiker are gone, as are the hares, and the bushbabies and vervets struggle to come to terms with the un-insulated power lines that run through the trees.
Many of the plots are destroyed — walls smashed and some 80 properties comprising about 90 acres belonging to Kenyans, Norwegians, Britons, Swiss and Italians have been seized illegally.
The legitimacy of our title deeds was investigated and affirmed by the National Lands Commission (NLC) over the course of 2015 and conveyed to us, to the local authority and to the “claimants” in February 2016 by the Chairman of the NLC. Since then, the area has become a target for lawlessness and crime; none of us anticipated the ambition and determination of a few powerful individuals to pervert the course of justice. As the tragedy of the Laikipia invasions unfolds, we are into our third year of the ‘Mbuyuni Estate’ Invasion.
This Mangrove Kingfisher and his mate, whose family I have written about in previous editions of this magazine, spend much of their time with us, dipping into our pool, and the ground pond we constructed for the birds. A Woolly Necked-Stork flies in on giant wings dwarfing every other bird. He stands in solitary contemplation by the pool, strutting carefully along the terrazzo lip and dipping his beak for a drink. The Harrier Hawk is in the pond as I write, his face suffused with blood signifying his mating status, his presence spreading panic amongst the sunbirds and the wagtails as the drongos shriek out their warning.