Monday, May 4, 2020

View from the rear [home office] window

by Amanda Knowles, AIA, LEEP AP

For the first few weeks of shelter-in-place, my work station was haphazard – the kitchen counter during breakfast, the dining room table when my husband was taking a call in the kitchen, the living room floor next to my daughter’s puzzle-in-progress. When it became clear that things were not going back to “normal” anytime soon, we started looking at our back porch through new eyes. The back porch had long been used as a depository for muddy shoes, folded strollers, boxes that needed to be broken down for the recycling. But now, we noticed, it had so much more potential! A desk on the back porch would have a view to the giant oak and buckeye trees, the small daylit creek in our neighbors’ yard, and filtered daylight. And so, over a weekend, two small desks were set up looking out to the lovely view we had only just discovered from our own back porch.

Sitting at our new desks, the view past our laptop screens captured our attention – swooping birds of many varieties made their appearance throughout the day. Some were easily identifiable (your standard crow, Steller’s and Scrub Jays, a hovering hummingbird). But other birds required us novice bird watchers to break out our bird books: The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America and Birds of Berkeley by Oliver James.

Both books are now featured in our back porch office, and we’re getting better and better at spotting and naming birds as they fly by our window. Alas, our cell phone cameras do not do these birds justice, so the images below are captured from Oliver James’ beautiful book.

Black Phoebe (top left); California Towhee (top right)
Oak Titmouse (bottom left); Bushtit (bottom right)

Black Phoebe: The most frequent visitor to our backyard, these tiny birds perch on our back fence, until suddenly they swoop up into the air and dive bomb down on some unsuspecting bug mid-flight, before returning to their perch for more quiet introspection.

California Towhee: Another common bird in the yard, and much bolder than the Phoebe, these Towhees don’t bother to fly away when we open the window, or our dog wanders outside, or the sewer construction starts up on the street. We appreciate their dedication to putting on a show for us each day.

Oak Titmouse: Often hopping along our shed roof, and darting in and out of the oak tree just above, these little birds provide a noisy addition to the yard, making an appearance when most other activity has died down.

Bushtit: This little guy made his appearance not out our office window, but at our bedroom window, where we found him sitting in a smoke bush and pecking diligently at his own reflection in the window. Usually these birds travel in groups, so we suspect he was trying to convince his reflection to move on to the next shrub with the crowd. While we have not seen him again, his bold appearance seemed worthy of a mention. 

Cooper’s Hawk: A thrilling discovery for the whole family was when we discovered a hawk nesting in our neighbor’s redwood tree. We don’t see this hawk as often as we hear it’s “kee! kee!” call, which our 2-year-old daughter easily identifies.

Working from home has its challenges, but I will always appreciate this opportunity to sit still in the place I live, watching the birds fly by as the days shift around me.

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