If you can walk through a forest and not see the wonder around you, double back and repeat the process in the company of Marianne Hudson. She’s your eyes, your ears and the key to unveiling what’s around every branchy twist and wooded turn in Russell Forest at Russell Lands On Lake Martin.

A naturalist, wildlife biologist and licensed falconer, Hudson can also tell you how to keep deer from eating your flowers along the lake and the measures to follow if you find an injured animal. She’s the one the Alabama Department of Conservation’s game wardens call for help. And the trainer who readies Auburn University’s famous eagles to land on the 50-yard-line at the beginning of every home game.

From late June through December, Hudson and her colleague Andrew Hopkins fly Spirit, a Bald Eagle, and Nova, a golden, at Jordan-Hare Stadium on the Auburn campus. “We put them through their paces and they receive the majority of their meals in the stadium.”

The birds, either of which might be tapped to fly during pre-game events (“depending on who’s got his game face on”), dive and swoop each day in preparation for their star moment. “I joke that we feed them bits of Bulldog, Gator and Elephant but it’s actually more like dead rats, mice, chicken and quail. They get the satisfaction that comes with a big meal of a dead animal at the end of a successful flight, right on the 50-yard-line.”

That meal, that moment, is the longest 60 seconds of Hudson’s game day. “The bird has a tracking device so I’m not worried about losing him,” she says. “But we do not want to disappoint our fans so we stand there hoping everything goes according to plan.”

Pick up the December issue of Shorelines to read more about Marianne and her work at Russell Lands On Lake Martin.

Photos provided by Marianne Hudson.

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