In March 2019, a team of researchers working in northern Minnesota positioned a motion-triggered camera at the edge of a beaver pond just south of Voyageurs National Park and left it there. For a year. The resulting video footage offers a fascinating glimpse at some of the wild inhabitants of the Greater Voyageurs Ecosystem, not to mention a showcase of the area's drastic seasonal shifts. During its year-long stint, the camera captured over 7,000 20-second videos, and amongst the many clips of leaves or grass blowing in the wind were several featuring wolves, bears, white-tailed deer, raccoons, herons, mink, fishers and more.

The team cut the best of the lot into a digestible, six-minute video:

The camera trap was put in place by the Voyageurs Wolf Project, a collaboration between the University of Minnesota and Voyageurs National Park with the goal of learning more about how frequently wildlife use beaver dams. The initial plan was not to leave the camera in place for a full year. "But after seeing all the wildlife activity in the first few months," Thomas Gable, head researcher on the project explained to a local news outlet, "I got the idea of leaving the camera out for an entire year to capture all the wildlife that crossed the dam."  

And there was a healthy dose of critter traffic. Unsurprisingly, beavers were recorded – sometimes repairing their dam wall; Canada geese waddled into frame accompanied by a trail of goslings; white-tailed deer of various ages paraded along the dam's edge; and a cinnamon-hued black bear ambled through the grass-lined embankment. Wolves were also plentiful, with one pack recorded resting on the snow-laden dam during one of Minnesota's colder months. (Also keep your eyes peeled for a cameo by Austin Homkes – a biologist for the wolf project who can be spotted scurrying into frame in Velociraptor-like fashion.)

"Beaver dams can be wildlife highways in boreal environments," the Voyageurs Wolf Project explain on Facebook, "allowing all sorts of wildlife to easily cross wetland habitats which might be otherwise difficult to get across. While the wildlife is undoubtedly neat, we particularly enjoyed watching the changing of the seasons on this beaver dam! It summarises life in the Northwoods: cold snowy winters and hot, humid summers with lots of vegetation!"

That vegetation proved problematic at times and researchers had to regularly visit the site to remove tall weeds, as well as replace the cameras batteries and memory card. It's all in a day's work for the Voyageurs Wolf Project team who have been using trail cameras extensively for the last six years to better document the movements and behaviours of wolves (and other wildlife) around Minnesota’s only national park. Beaver dams are a sort of hotspot for animal activity.

"Understanding how wildlife use beaver dams would be interesting from a natural history perspective for sure," Homkes told the News Tribune. "The data would not be particularly groundbreaking or surprise any biologist. But it is another piece of information that shows how beavers impact a variety of different wildlife!"

In November last year, the team published a pioneering study that showed how wolf predation on beavers could trigger an ecological chain reaction that alters entire wetland ecosystems. Wolves – according to the study's findings – regularly dine on "dispersing" beavers – nomads on a mission to claim new territory. If these colonists fell to hungry wolves, their partially constructed ponds remained uninhabited for the rest of the year. Without beavers to build dams, forests did not fully transition to ponds and wetlands leading to widespread ecological change.

Camera traps can play a big part in understanding the relationships between different species and it's hoped that continued research will reveal further insights. The team recently announced on Facebook that more beaver dam cam action is on the way and we can only hope part two as compelling as the first installment: