Portland author's falcon tale puts focus on Audubon efforts

by: TRIBUNE PHOTOS: JAIME VALDEZ - North Portland artist Lisa Manning shows pages from her first book, Falcons in the City, a local environmental success story.  When you’re driving along the Fremont Bridge, you might just see the fastest animal on the planet soaring overhead.

Peregrine falcons — the regal black- and brown-feathered creatures that have made Portland their home for nearly 20 years — are all around us, if we take the time to look up.

That’s the message in a new children’s picture book, written by a North Portland artist who’s been teaching kids about nature all of her life.

“Hopefully, kids can go, ‘Wow, this is great; I want to be a naturalist or biologist,’ “ says Lisa Manning, author of “Falcons in the City,” published in May by local publishing house Inkwater Press.

Manning, 57, a substitute teacher at schools across t he Portland area, was inspired to write the book six years ago when her daughter was in middle school.

It was a dark time in Manning’s life, just after the death of her younger brother, and she had a wakeup call about how short life is.

“You never know how much time you have on this Earth, so you might as well follow your dreams,” she says.

Her husband prompted her to try a new challenge. “I told her ‘You’re not an artist unless you do art,’ ” says Dennis Poklikuha, a retired teacher himself.

So it was fortuitous that the subject came up at a parent-teacher conference for her daughter, Lucy, at da Vinci Middle School.

She and science teacher Sarah Ruggiero, who has since left the school, began plotting out a children’s book together. They at first considered writing about bees or whales.

Then Manning saw the January 2007 Portland Tribune story and photograph of a peregrine falcon sitting on a nest of eggs. It detailed Audubon Society of Portland Conservation Director Bob Sallinger’s longtime efforts to protect and promote the livelihood of the peregrine falcons.

They were hooked.

Manning and Ruggiero contacted Sallinger, interviewed him for two hours on a Sunday morning, and pored over tons of material he provided: photographs, old newspaper clippings and his own stories about the peregrines.

The writers took the material and started by writing a rhyming book, but then Ruggiero moved to Eugene and Manning decided to finish the project alone.

She couldn’t make the rhymes work so she spent weeks rewriting it and several months reworking the pictures, which she did with watercolor.

Manning brought drafts to Sallinger for feedback along the way. At one point he told her she needed more baby chicks. He also had her rework the falcon; it looked more like an eagle, with a head and wingtips that were too rounded.

It was a learning process, Manning says from her North Portland home and studio, a colorful art-filled space near the Willamette Bluffs, with a lush garden out front.

The art on display includes framed originals from the falcons book, her T-shirt design for the Portland Megaband, and a half-dozen wildlife-inspired wine bottle labels she created for Laughing Oaks Vineyard in California.

A Kickstarter campaign in January raised the cash Manning needed for publication. The campaign raised $2,536 in a month, including a check for $75 raised by students from Woodmere Elementary in Southeast Portland.

Manning was touched by their support; as a thank you she donated three copies of the book to their school library, three posters of art from the book, and Audubon staff brought Finnegan, their education peregrine falcon, to the school for a visit.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTOS: JAIME VALDEZ - Lisa Manning displays a row of wine bottle labels she designed in her art-filled home nearby the Willamette bluffs. Nature has always been her muse.

Success story

The book is a tale about how wildlife biologists and volunteer naturalists helped peregrine falcons thrive after the species became threatened. In 1972, the EPA banned the toxic pesticide DDT, and in 1994 peregrines began nesting on theFremont Bridge.

Today, there are peregrine nests on the Fremont, St. Johns, Interstate, Abernethy and Interstate bridges, as well as on the city’s tall buildings and cliffs.

Manning is hoping to get the book in Powell’s City of Books and as many libraries, schools and gift shops as she can. She’ll also be at the da Vinci School Arts Fair Audubon Wild Arts Festival this winter.

Sallinger, who continues to monitor, track and rehabilitate the peregrines today at the Audubon Center, says he’s pleased with the book, which he always wanted someone to write.

“There are so many stories associated with these peregrines,” he says.

He points to books like Colin Meloy’s “Wildwood,” and the Audubon’s Raptor Cam, which engage kids and adults alike with the city’s rich wildlife.

Since 2007, the raptor cams ( have provided streaming images of red-tail falcons nesting on the Mark Hatfield Federal Building, as well as a pair of osprey at the South Waterfront, from their nest on the Meriwether building.

Sallinger updates the raptor cam followers with posts about the birds’ comings and goings, including births, injuries and releases.

by: COURTESY OF LISA MANNING  - Peregrine falcon chicks are part of the story in Falcons in the City.   On June 5, for instance, he posted about the release of a red-tail hawk from the roof of the federal courthouse. “He took a quick look around, ran about 20 feet along the rooftop and then leaped through the railing and into the air,” Sallinger wrote. “He flew about two city blocks before landing on another rooftop. A little while later, one of his parents cruised by and we could see him visibly responding to the parent.”

Peregrines and other threatened birds of prey continue to be on track today, Sallinger says, but there are new challenges on the horizon.

Just last fall a species called the streaked horned lark — a songbird that makes its stronghold in North Portland — was proposed for listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Audubon continues its outreach and education programs, many of which are story-based.

“We need to create our own stories, our own mythology and urban art about wildlife as a way to populate our landscape with animals,” Sallinger says, “so that kids aren’t growing up just seeing polar bears and panda bears on TV. We have some amazing stuff right around us.”

Soaring story

"Falcons in the City" sells for $14.95 at the St. Johns Bookstore, Green Leaf bookstore on Alberta, Broadway Books, Child's Place on Fremont, the Backyard Bird Shop and Audubon's gift shop. For more:

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