A grey wolf trotting through a forest, wading river shallows, generally doing wolfish things far from people – and you get to tag along for the ride!

That’s the charm of this video recently released by the Voyageurs Wolf Project: about as close to a genuine wolf-eye view of the remote woods of far northern Minnesota as one could ask for:

The Wolf Project reckons this is the first footage captured by a collar camera on a wild wolf. And it’s but the latest gem to come out of the team’s fieldwork in the Greater Voyageurs Ecosystem, a lake-strung mosaic of southern boreal and mixed-hardwood forest just south of the U.S.-Canada border that includes Voyageurs National Park and adjacent timberlands on the southern edge of the Canadian Shield. This is part of what’s widely known in the Upper Midwest of the U.S. as the “Northwoods,” and a longtime wolf stronghold.

The canid cinematographer is No. VO89, a lone wolf trapped by the team last spring near the Ash River and fitted with the collar camera. To preserve battery life, the researchers configured the camera to grab 30 seconds of video at the beginning of every daylight hour, which it did for 42 days. They programmed the collar, meanwhile, to drop off the wolf’s neck after six weeks, upon which they retrieved it using a GPS signal.

Highlights of the collar-cam footage – most of which consisted of wolf siestas – include VO89 chewing deer bones and noshing on fish plucked from the Ash. The Voyageurs Wolf Project initially documented wolves of the Bowman Bay Pack preying on spawning suckers in April 2017: some of the only clear-cut documentation of wolf predation on freshwater fish. (Coastal wolves in Alaska and British Columbia are known to catch salmon.) The following year, remote cameras maintained by the researchers captured the phenomenon:

Wolf VO89’s self-filmed fishy meals suggest this behaviour isn’t confined to the Bowman Bay Pack, Voyageurs Wolf Project lead Thomas Gable told the Park Rapids Enterprise. “This footage clearly demonstrates that other wolves in our area know how to hunt fish as well,” he said. (The Wolf Project’s YouTube caption for the collar-cam video notes the crew also recorded a wolf from another pack, the Paradise Pack, fishing last year.)

The Voyageurs Wolf Project, a collaboration between the University of Minnesota and the National Park Service, has uncovered a treasure trove of information about the Greater Voyageurs wolves since it launched in 2012. It primarily focuses on the feeding ecology and reproductive habits of wolves in the summer, a challenging time to study the canids on account of dense vegetation.

In winter, the region’s wolf packs mainly course after deer and moose, but in summer, when rearing pups, the wolves often hunt and forage alone, focusing on smaller prey such as deer fawns and beavers (not to mention fish here and there). The fact that wolves generally polish off such kills more quickly than larger carcasses also makes it trickier to track what they’re eating.

Employing GPS collars, remote cameras, and other tools, the Wolf Project has managed to shed light on this previously obscure stretch of the lupine calendar in the Northwoods. And the insights go beyond the wolves’ piscivorous predilections. For example, the study has established just how important a prey item beavers are for these boreal wolves: The hefty aquatic rodents, exceptionally common in the Greater Voyageurs Ecosystem, may make up more than 40 percent of a wolf’s diet here from spring through fall, though wolves vary in how much they target beavers.

Feasting on these web-footed, paddle-tailed beasts – not exactly easy pickings, given how much time they spend in the water and how vigorously they can defend themselves with their big, tree-felling teeth – requires that wolves set aside their typical running-pursuit (or cursorial) method of hunting and adopt different tactics. In the Greater Voyageurs Ecosystem, wolves nab beavers by lying in ambush downwind of likely spots where their potential victims might come ashore – rather catlike stakeouts that can last many hours.

The Wolf Project’s findings suggest that wolf predation on beavers – famous for their “ecosystem engineering” as dam-builders and waterway-sculptors – may even influence wetland distribution and landscape succession in Greater Voyageurs.

The Wolf Project has also revealed a more omnivorous side to wolf diets in midsummer, when ripe blueberries are eagerly scarfed up:

What the Voyageurs Wolf Project is learning about those hard-to-spot summertime wolves in Minnesota may offer perspective on seasonal wolf habits in other northern forests. And, incidentally, revelations on wolf ecology aren’t the only notable discoveries logged by the Voyageurs Wolf Project: In 2017, the team found the largest-known jack pine in the U.S. in the Voyageurs National Park backcountry.

We highly recommend keeping tabs on the Wolf Project’s social media and its YouTube channel, as the footage the team regularly shares is amazing. One more example to close things out: a clip the project captured last spring of the Paradise Pack wolves driving an American black bear away from their den:

Header image: Pixabay