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.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Our census numbers dropped again today, just as we had predicted with the forecast of unfavorable winds for monarch migration into Cape May.  Shortly after midnight, however, a cold front is predicted to pass through Cape May, bringing northwest winds throughout the day tomorrow.  We're hoping these winds will bring an upsurge of migrants into Cape May, but there's no guarantee.  We just have to get back out there, conduct our censuses, and search for monarchs in the gardens and the skies at Cape May Point.

About the only thing we can accurately predict is the timing of our monarch tagging demos.  We shared monarch information with about 60 people at today's demo, the third of the year.  Our tagging demos will be held every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through October 12.  Join us at the East Shelter of Cape May Point State Park at 2:00 pm on any of these days.  The East Shelter is the covered picnic pavilion adjacent to the Hawkwatch Platform in the Park, right across the big parking lot from the Cape May Point Lighthouse.  We usually spend about ½ hour talking about the Monarch Monitoring Project, monarch biology and migration, and monarch conservation concerns.  We then break into smaller group to watch the tagging of monarchs, which are then released to continue their migrations toward Mexico.  There's no charge for these programs, though you're welcome to make a donation (and we've got some nice thank you gifts for donors).  We hope to see many of you at our demos during the coming weeks.

Lindsey Brendel (left) and Angela Demarse describe the monarch life
cycle to visitors at Sunday's tagging demo.

The Lull Continues

Cape May Point saw a rather mild and cloudy day today with 10-15 mph E to SE winds. We don't expect many new monarch migrants with SE winds, and that expectation was realized today with underwhelming Monarch counts. The forecast is still looking good for Monday, Northwest winds are coming, so don't lose hope!

In the meantime, you can enjoy the mild weather on some of Cape May's Trails and beautiful gardens. There are still lots of insects crawling around on days like these, so I took advantage of the lull and had some great sightings! Look closely, flip leaves, and enjoy all of the colorful little wonders that await you!

Saddleback caterpillar, Acharia stimulea
This caterpillar has many painful stingers, make sure you avoid touching this caterpillar. False eyes on the back (bottom photo) offer further protection from predators.

White-marked Tussock Moth (Orgyia leucostigma)

Stinging Rose Caterpillar (Parasa indetermina)
Another beautiful but painful stinging caterpillar.

A Green Darner (Anax junius, bottom) snatches a struggling saddlebag (top) in the air and lands on the ground to subdue and feed on its unfortunate prey.

Swallowtail caterpillars munching on some parsley

An Orbweaver spider wrapping silk around its prey

Sphinx moth caterpillar

 Grey Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) nectaring on some goldenrod.

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Bit of a Lull

Monarchs were still easy to find around Cape May Point today, but the census numbers were only about half of the totals counted on each of the previous three days.  Fairly strong east winds picked up this afternoon, and that may have had some of the monarchs clinging to vegetation and not readily seen on the census, but it does seem like more monarchs departed than arrived today.  The weekend forecast doesn't suggest that we'll see many more monarchs over the next 2 day, but another cold front is expected on Monday.  Our best guess is that early next week will bring the next noticeable influx of monarchs into Cape May.

This shouldn't be alarming.  Every year our monarch numbers go up and down several times.  A lot of it is weather dependent.  North winds trigger the southward movement of monarchs.  They are unlikely to fly into south winds -- with 2000 miles to cover, why try flying into a headwind?  West winds push monarchs towards the Atlantic coast, so more are likely to get funneled into Cape May.  East winds push many monarchs to the west of Delaware Bay, and they'll head south without ever coming to Cape May.  Northwest winds, which combine the attributes of the north winds and the west ones, generally deliver the most monarchs into Cape May.  Autumn cold fronts are usually followed by northwest winds.

We know that there are many more monarchs to come.  Plenty haven't even begun to migrate -- they're still in one of the immature stages.  We're still seeing many eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalides around Cape May, and we're told this is true to our north as well.  We're also hearing reports of large numbers of monarch on the move in places like the Lake Ontario shore in upstate New York.  So we'll continue to watch for a big movement of monarchs into Cape May.  North winds or south, lots of monarchs or just a few, we'll be continuing our studies every day until the end of October.  We invite you to come and watch along with us.

Monarch egg.

Monarch caterpillar, just about ready to pupate.
Monarch chrysalis. Wings of the soon-to-emerge adult are becoming visible.


Friday Morning Update

Just after sunrise this morning I visited the area where monarchs were gathering late yesterday afternoon.  I couldn't find any monarchs here.  On several other occasions we have watched monarchs gathering in one spot late in the day and then shifting to another location for the overnight roost.  This may have happened last night, we just don't know.  About ½ hour after sunrise I started seeing a good number of monarchs in flight, mostly drifting over the dunes at Cape May Point.  I wish I could tell you what the monarchs will do today, whether we'll see many or just a few, but there's no way to predict.  Our team will be out there again, counting and tagging, and we'll let you know what we find.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Steady Migration Continues

It was a pleasant day in Cape May, with very gentle winds, which mostly blew from the north.  Monarchs were migrating today, and hawk counter Tom Reed saw many gliding high overhead, probably riding the ideal, gentle winds right over the Bay to Delaware.  Census numbers were around 50 monarchs/hour for the third straight day.  It seems that as many monarchs were arriving into Cape May as were leaving, with many more just passing overhead and not detected on the census.  Most of the monarchs we were seeing were in excellent condition, a noticeable contrast to many of the worn and tattered ones that had been hanging around Cape May Point for several days.

MMP volunteer Paige Cunningham found a small roost of monarchs in Cape May Point just before 5 pm, and other team members gathered to observe.  At first there were just 10 or 15 monarchs spread out in groups of 1, 2, or 3 in a small grove of trees.  But every few minutes we'd see another monarch or two arrive, and soon more than 30 were present.  As we left, we saw a few others heading into the same grove.  I'm thinking that we were seeing the last of the day's high flying monarchs, who sensed that there wasn't enough time left in the day to cross over to Delaware, and so they were descending into Cape May Point.  Here they were seeking out other monarchs to join in an overnight roost.  We couldn't stay until dark to see what the final number would be, nor did we find any other roosting areas, but we'll be out early tomorrow morning to see what we can discover.

If I had to guess, I'd guess that we'll find a few more monarchs in this grove tomorrow morning, but I don't think it will be more than 50 or so.  I'll report back and let you know.  The forecast calls for another day of gentle winds tomorrow, starting in the north and swinging over to the east.  Those morning north winds could bring us more monarchs, the afternoon east winds probably won't.  But we never really know, which is why we're out there every day, counting monarchs, tagging monarchs, and trying to explain just what's happening with this year's migration.  We wonder about this every day, and we test our theories every time the wind changes direction.

Monarch resting atop a poison ivy leaf.

Looking ahead, we see that south winds and warm temperatures are predicted for the weekend.  If this forecast holds, we're not likely to see much new migration until Monday, when northwest winds at 10 - 15 mph are predicted.  We're quick to point out, however, that forecasts often change.  If you're planning to come to Cape May this weekend, don't cancel your plans.  You're sure to see at least a few monarchs around the gardens of Cape May Point, and you can join us for a tagging demo at 2 pm either Saturday or Sunday.  Meet us at the East Shelter in Cape May Point State Park for this ½ hour to 1 hour program.  There's no charge, though we can accept contributions to the project from any who wish to donate.

We'll close with mention of another article about our project, this time from the Press of Atlantic City, which is due to run in tomorrow's paper.  The article, a video clip, and a nice gallery of photos may be found on the newspaper's website, at  We've been in the news almost every day this week.  While that's nice for us, it's especially heartening for the monarchs, who need more humans to care about their fate and to take actions that will protect monarchs and the milkweed plants they depend on.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Holding Steady

It was a beautiful fall day in Cape May, and monarchs drifting overhead and visiting gardens provided part of the day's charm.  The census count was down slightly from yesterday, with each day yielding around 50 monarchs/hour.  Not a huge influx, but the best days of the season so far.  We're expecting favorable winds again tomorrow, so there's a chance that our numbers will rise again.

Our seasonal team, Lindsey Brendel (left) and Angela Demarse (right)
tag monarchs late on Tuesday afternoon.

While it was a good day for monarch butterflies in Cape May Point, it was a spectacular day for the Monarch Monitoring Project in our efforts to educate and inform the public about monarch butterflies and their troubled status.  This morning we enjoyed reading about the project in a feature article from the Philadelphia Inquirer, which you can see online by clicking here.  Then, this evening, Lauren Wanko's video story was aired on NJTV News, and you can see that story right here.  It's just over two minutes in length.  We thank those in the media who help us spread the word, and we thank all of you who follow and support the Monarch Monitoring Project.  Please help us spread the word by directing others to subscribe to this blog and/or to "like" our project FaceBook page, which is

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Here they come!

After a rainy, dreary morning in Cape May, shortly before noon the winds shifted to the northwest, the rain stopped, the sky cleared, and the migrants began to arrive.  First there were the hawks, then the skies around Cape May became filled with dragonflies, and then, yes, the monarchs started coming in.  Sure, we've been seeing monarchs around Cape May all month, but today we could see them dropping from high in the sky down to Cape May Point.  The census numbers rose dramatically from the morning run to the 3 pm count.  We feel that this was the first major influx of 2014.

Monarch in excellent condition, one of many found at Cape May Point today.

In addition to seeing a rise in the census numbers, our team noticed that most monarchs that we found were in excellent condition and had not been tagged.  A few days ago I set out to do some tagging, and when 5 of the first 6 monarchs I netted had already been tagged by our team, I realized that we were seeing monarchs that had been hanging around.  Even the ones that hadn't been tagged were often quite worn, like the one below.  Today we saw lots of new, fresh monarchs that were clearly just arriving into Cape May Point.

Our team took advantage of the influx and we did a lot of tagging.  I think we more than doubled the season's total of monarchs tagged just this afternoon.  In the shot below, Angela Demarse records data on one of today's monarchs.  The tagging process includes more than just affixing a tag to a monarch's wing, we also record date, time, location, gender, wing length, and fat reserves.  The whole process usually just takes about a minute.

Part of our day was once again spent meeting with the Press.  A major objective of our program is to inform and educate as many people as possible about the biology of monarchs and of the conservation issues related to our favorite insect.  Today we had a great opportunity to meet with Lauren Wanko, reporter for NJTV.  Lauren visited us in 2012 and did a nice piece on our project, which you can see here.  We love Lauren, she is a very thorough reporter who works hard to get the story right.  She's also very friendly, and our team thoroughly enjoyed working with her.  She worked on the story with us for over two hours.  The monarch segment is scheduled to air on NJTV as part of their 7 pm news on Wednesday, Sept. 17.  Below, our seasonal staff poses with Lauren and with monarch butterflies.

Left to right: Lindsey Brendel, Lauren Wanko of NJTV, and Angela Demarse.
It's a great time to be in Cape May.  North winds are predicted for tomorrow, so we're guessing more monarchs will be arriving.  This is also the season for lots of songbirds, raptors, and even a wayward tern to be seen in Cape May.  The Whiskered Tern that was found on Friday was seen many times again today.  It's a great season for seeing a great variety of butterflies and dragonflies; the White-M Hairstreak, shown below, distracted us from our monarch work for a few moments.  It was a full, exciting day for the Monarch Monitoring Project.  Head on down to Cape May Point if you have a chance, this place rarely disappoints.  If you see a member of our team out there sweeping through the gardens with a butterfly net in hand, be sure to stop and say hello.  If you've never seen a butterfly get tagged, you might even get an impromptu demonstration.  And if you want to come to one of our formal tagging demonstrations, those will occur this weekend on both Saturday, Sept. 20, and Sunday, Sept. 21, at 2 pm each day.  Find us at the East Pavilion in Cape May Point State Park, the covered picnic pavilion right next to the Hawk Watch Platform.