The Monarch Monitoring Project is a long-term study on monarch migration through Cape May, NJ. It is a part of the New Jersey Audubon Research Department, and closely affiliated with the Cape May Bird Observatory.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Monarch Evacuation

On Tuesday morning Cape May Point was loaded with monarchs.  Numbers had been building for several days, and by Monday evening we were seeing the biggest overnight roosts that we'd found all year.

By midday Tuesday, however, the numbers began to drop.  We stood on the dunes and watched as monarchs flew out over Delaware Bay.  Some came back, perhaps intimidated by all the water, but many departed that day.  By late afternoon the scene was dramatically different, with only a few monarchs found in the gardens and on the goldenrods.  Most of the monarchs had left.

Our feelings are mixed by the big departures.  We're thrilled when the monarchs are here, yet we know they have to go, there's a long journey awaiting.  And it seems the monarchs got away just in time, for by Wednesday afternoon rain and heavy wind came to Cape May, and high winds are expected to continue for several days.  Terrible weather for monarch migration.  We miss you monarchs, but we're glad you got away when you did, and we wish you good luck for the journey that awaits.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Good Morning!

Wake up everybody! The driving census count this morning was the best yet. The Monarchs roosting along the dunes are warming up and are looking ready to get up and find some food. With this intermittent rain and West-southwest wind they haven't left to cross the Delaware Bay yet. This may be our last shot at such great numbers so take some time to cruise around the Point today.

Photo by Mark Garland, taken late yesterday afternoon.

The great numbers died down by this afternoon census. By this time, the winds had shifted to Northwest and had become rather weak. Perhaps it was good enough weather for crossing over to Delaware. The next couple of days are predicted to be rainy, so we shouldn't expect to see much until the rain passes over us. Luckily, the weather will be good for the Autumn Birding Festival! Monarchs are part of the events on Saturday, so make sure you plan your weekend around it! Here's the schedule:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Sudden influx!

If you are reading this post today, go out to Harvard Avenue and follow the dunes. Monarchs are in the air and fluttering around the conifers in good numbers! Gentle winds have the monarchs active again, and more have arrived. This is unusually late in the season for such a big movement of monarchs, so enjoy the sight while it lasts, we don't know how long these groups will be with us!

Strong winds

Monarch nectaring on seaside goldenrod, trying
to avoid today's strong winds.

Sunday Cape May was hit with strong Northwest winds, greater than 20 mph for most of the day. The driving census totals were very low, because few butterflies were willing to fly in such wind. Many small roosts that formed along the dunes under conifer trees on Saturday didn't change much during the day. The 20-40 monarchs in these roosts only shifted position so that the butterflies were not windward. Thankfully, the dunes are there with intact tree cover.

Dunes occur naturally along the sandy shores of the Atlantic Ocean in New Jersey, but historically they would shift position periodically due to storms and persistent winds.  When humans build along the shore we don't allow the dunes to grow and shift naturally, and therefore it's necessary to replenish beach sands and rebuild the dunes periodically.  The last major project in Cape May was begun about 10 years ago.  Without the vegetated dunes, many monarchs would be without essential shelter from the wind. Seaside goldenrod grows along the dunes and is a critical food resource for monarchs, as few other native plants on the dunes are still blooming and providing nectar during the late stages of the monarch migration season. Concerned citizens of Cape May Point annually plant new patches of seaside goldenrod on the dunes.

Unfortunately these strong winds meant that some migrating birds and insects would be pushed over the Atlantic waters. Lighter winds are predicted for Monday, and we expect to see monarchs on the move again and birds returning to Cape May and trying to get back on course.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Wonderful Monarch Show

Today was one of the better monarch days we have had all season.  Monarchs were seen all over Cape May Point.  Our census numbers were high, the tagging was constant, and we even had a group of school children come and spend the day with the Monarch Monitoring Project.  It was a busy day that did not slow down until sunset.

Monarchs didn't even mind sharing nectar sources! 
The west winds, warm temperatures, and sunny conditions made this the perfect autumn day and brought many new winged travelers to Cape May.  The morning census had 65 total monarchs, and the afternoon had 81.  For an individual census run, both of these figures are much higher than we typically count.

It will be interesting to see what tomorrow brings.  The wind conditions are predicted to be west/ northwest, which is always what we look for in a good flight.  It is going to be cooler tomorrow, and breezier as well.  Some weather forecasts are calling for gusts up to 26 miles per hour.  We will have to see how these conditions work together, and influence the monarch flight.

Clear skies, warm air, and lots of butterflies.

We were happy to spend the afternoon with a school group from Parkesburg, Pennsylvania.  Some of the kids who visited came with their own experience raising monarchs, and others were learning about monarch ecology for the first time.  They were certainly a lively bunch, and were counting monarchs, learning about the tagging process, and asking questions all afternoon.  

As the sun was going down, monarchs were settling in to small roost sites along the dunes.  There were many small groups anywhere from 10 to 30 monarchs, in the pines, as well as on the goldenrod.  We hope tomorrow continues the great monarch show.  

In the pines across from St. Peters

Friday, October 17, 2014

Good Monarch Day With More on the Way

Monarchs were seen in good numbers today.  If you were walking, you might have even been able to catch the shadow of a monarch on the ground as it glided overhead.  It was a great day for all kinds of pollinators, and many insect species were seen nectaring on this warm and pleasant day.

Our team had a busy day that started off with a visit to West Cape May Elementary School.  Our seasonal field technicians were the guests of the kindergarten and pre-kindergarten class.  Both Angela and Lindsey read a story on monarchs, showed the students live monarch caterpillars, and went with the students on a walk which ended with a monarch butterfly release.  Both the kids and our interns had a wonderful time, and we are pleased to say that a patch of common milkweed was planted and growing in front of the school.

When the class went outside, there was even an unexpected surprise in the milkweed patch.  A beautiful green monarch chrysalis was attached to one of the milkweed seed pods.  This meant that the students got to see larva stage, (caterpillar) pupa stage (chrysalis) and newly emerged butterfly, all up close!

The weekend weather is looking very promising.  The forecast is still calling for west and west-northwest winds through Saturday and Sunday.  If these predictions hold true, then our team will certainly be doing a lot more tagging!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Monarch and Milkweed Update

Many monarchs can still be seen fluttering around the gardens of the Cape May Point.  The fall season may have one more push of monarchs in store.  This coming Saturday and Sunday call for sunny conditions, and are forecasted to have northwest, and west northwest winds.

The Monarch Monitoring Project has a tagging demo during Autumn Weekend, but our team is always happy to talk about tagging and monarch migration while working in the field.  We love when people have questions, and are always happy to do an impromptu demo.

A small male monarch - 48mm forewing length.

Fall is the season when milkweed naturally goes to seed.  If you have wanted to add a small milkweed patch to your garden, now is the perfect time.  The seeds need to be exposed to the cold of winter in order to grow in the spring, so now is the opportune time to plant.  The milkweed seeds don't need to be planted deep into the soil.  It is actually best to place the seeds on top of loose soil, and then lightly cover them with grass clippings or fine dirt.  

Photo Credit: Karen St. John - Common milkweed seed pods

Aside from serving as the host plant for monarch caterpillars, the milkweed plant has a fascinating history on its own.  During World War II, the white floss that is attached to the seeds was collected and used to stuff life jackets. The floss from milkweed plants is six times more buoyant that cork, and proved to be the perfect life vest filling.  

Bedding is also another use for milkweed floss.  Hummingbirds often use the floss to line their nests, and because the floss is a better insulator than goose down, it has been used by humans to stuff mattresses and pillows.