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.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Monarch season is over ... or is it?

The field season for the CMBO Monarch Monitoring Project runs from Sept. 1 through Oct. 31.  Our censuses are conducted on those days, the final one for 2015 at 2 pm last Saturday.  We haven't analyzed the data yet, but the weekly totals are posted on our website data page,

November begins many years without any monarchs still around Cape May Point; that's just about the time when they arrive en masse at the mountainous areas west of Mexico City where they'll spend the winter in a prolonged dormancy.  October's last week was very quiet for monarchs.  But the month's end, along with the first few days of November, brought mild weather to Cape May and we've seen a slight but noticeable increase in monarch numbers.  I tagged 15 over the last two days.  Can monarchs that are still in Cape May Point in early November possibly make it to Mexico?  We really don't know, but many are in great shape and seem capable of making the journey, as long as they stay ahead of the freezing weather.  So we go ahead and tag a few, hoping to someday get data returned about one of these late season butterflies.

Late season monarch on zinnias in a Cape May Point garden.
The presence of late monarchs was a bonus on Monday, when the entire 7th grade class (more than 120 students) from Richard M. Teitelman Middle School visited Cape May Point on a natural history field trip.  The well-organized teacher set up a number of stations for groups of students to visit during this full-day field trip, and Field Naturalist Lindsey Brendel of the Monarch Monitoring Project taught a session about monarch biology.  Six different groups learned from Lindsey, and happily we were able to find a monarch for each group, so all of the students could watch as a monarch was tagged and then see it released back into the wild.  Lindsey is an engaging teacher who held the students' attention quite well, but no human can compete with the charisma of a living monarch butterfly.

Field Naturalist Lindsey Brendel and students from Teitelman Middle School.

Thanks to many generous contributions to the Monarch Monitoring Project we've been able to extend Lindsey's work season until mid-November; otherwise we would not have had staff available to meet with the students this day.  Lindsey is also working to organize all the data collected by MMP team members and by volunteer Monarch Ambassadors who made studies of monarchs in areas north of Cape May proper.

All of the students were able to feel the strong grip of a monarch's feet.
Colder weather is predicted for the coming weekend, but there are no freezing temperatures in the 10-day forecast, so perhaps we'll see a few monarchs lingering well into November this year.  They're not alone, as a few other butterflies (see below) are also still on the wing.  We're tempted to spend all day, every day, out watching these late season butterflies, but we've also got a lot of work to do, organizing and interpreting data, preparing reports, and beginning to plan for the 2016 monarch season.  Please keep watching this blog to learn about what we learned in 2015 and what we plan to study in 2016.

American Lady butterflies can still be found in the gardens of Cape May Point.

The little skipper called Sachem is also still common at the Point.

Friday, October 30, 2015

And we still have monarchs

Monarchs could still be seen around Cape May Point today.  Not a lot, but enough here and there that you wouldn't go long without seeing a monarch if you were paying attention.  Many were still quite bright and fresh-looking, so perhaps they can stay ahead of the freezing weather and still make the trek to Mexico.  October 31 is the last day for our censuses every year, but this won't be the first time that we'll still have monarchs lingering into November.

Male monarch at Cape May Point, 10/30/15.

Female monarch at Cape May Point, 10/30/15.

We're not only seeing adult monarchs in Cape May here at the end of October, there are also still a few caterpillars around.  The one show below, in "J" formation just prior to pupation, won't emerge as an adult until mid-November.  It seems unlikely that it will make the trek to Mexico with so late a start, but who knows, these intrepid insects keep surprising us.

Monarchs hang in this "J" position before molting into a chrysalis.

While the censuses end after October 31, we'll still be working on the Monarch Monitoring Project, compiling the year's tagging data, conducting a few more educational programs, and organizing materials for next year's monarch season.  Later in the winter we'll make plans for new initiatives that the Monarch Monitoring Project might undertake.  It will be a busy off-season, we'll let you know what new ideas we might be trying in 2016.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Unexpected influx

We witnessed an unexpected late influx of monarchs into Cape May Point today.  It was good weather for butterflies, low 70s with gentle westerly breezes, but we didn't think there were many more monarchs left this far north.  Field Naturalist Lindsey Brendel tallied 44 on the 10:00 am census.  Monarchs could be seen drifting overhead all over Cape May, and gardens that still have some blossoms were visited frequently.  Most of the seaside goldenrod on the dunes has gone to seed, but a few monarchs found nectar on the remaining blossoms, as seen above.

It's not realistic to expect many more monarchs this year, but I imagine that there will still be more than a few in Cape May Point tomorrow.  As long as we don't get a freeze, and none is in the current forecast, we're likely to have a few lingering monarchs into November.  But after the next day or two I wouldn't expect more than a few.

Sunday, October 25, 2015


A few more monarchs were seen in Cape May on Saturday.  Sunday morning is gray with occasional drizzle, but it's supposed to clear up this afternoon, and maybe, just maybe, we'll see a few more monarchs along the Cape during the first part of the week.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Quiet week. What's next?

It's been a very quiet week for monarchs in Cape May, with just a few seen each day, some newly emerged late season butterflies, and some worn and tattered individuals that might not even try to get to Mexico.  It's been warm for a few days, with south and southwest winds that generally put a stop to the migration.  Winds are predicted to turn around tonight.  Will the favorable winds bring a late surge of monarchs into Cape May?  We should know by tomorrow evening, and we'll report at that time.

We have evidence that at least a few monarchs have been on the move during this quiet week.  This tagged monarch, SMP 909, was found in the Triangle Park of Cape May Point today.  This is not one of the tags used by our team.  Sometimes other taggers visit Cape May Point and tag monarchs here (we also ask them to share their tagging data with us, but they often don't), but perhaps this monarch was tagged from someplace far to our north.  If you tag monarchs or know of someone who does, please check tag numbers and let us know if you've got information about when and where this one was tagged.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sunday update

We've had a major departure of monarchs from Cape May this weekend, with the census count down to about 8 monarchs/hour for Sunday.  There are still some monarchs lingering amidst the seaside goldenrods on the upper beaches of Cape May Point, but the great show from a few days ago has definitely ended.  This may have been the year's last big movement of monarchs through Cape May, but we can't be certain of that -- sometimes we'll see good numbers during October's last week.  It's been a chilly weekend, but warmer temperatures are due to arrive on Tuesday.  We'll let you know if monarchs come along with the warmer weather.

Lone monarch on seaside goldenrod.

Our formal programming ended with our last 11 am "drop-in" program at the Triangle Park today, and our last tagging demo was held on Saturday afternoon.  Project Director Dick Walton, who has guided our work through 26 field seasons, is retiring from this position at the end of this season.  A small reception was held in Dick's honor yesterday afternoon, and he was presented with certificates from Field Coordinator Louise Zemaitis and Field Naturalists Lindsey Brendel and Katie Burns.  Please join us as we offer congratulations and thanks to Dick Walton for over a quarter century of leadership on monarch research, conservation, and education.

l to r: Katie Burns, Louise Zemaitis, Dick Walton, & Lindsey Brendel.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Friday evening update

It was a pleasant day for observing and studying monarchs in Cape May Point.  Our team gathered early this morning at the dune crossing near St. Peter's Chapel, where monarchs had been observed going to roost on Thursday evening.  Many visitors joined us as we watched the monarchs leave the roost one by one, first sunning on nearby pine trees and then heading into the dunes to feed on the nectar of seaside goldenrod flowers.

Part of the monarch roost this morning.  Note tagged monarch at lower right.
For much of the day we watched and tagged monarchs from the paths crossing the dunes.  A few drifted inland to gardens, especially gardens along Harvard Ave., adjacent to the dunes.  It didn't seem like many monarchs departed for Delaware, but it also didn't seem like many new ones were arriving.

Three monarchs feeding on seaside goldenrod.
Late in the afternoon many visitors gathered again near St. Peter's, hoping to see another monarch roost.  About 50 gathered in one cluster, but on Thursday evening about 150 were here.  We searched many areas around Cape May Point and found other small roosts nearby on Harvard Ave., on Lincoln Ave., at Cape May Point State Park, and along Alexander Ave., but no large roosts were found.

Monarchs gathering on pine tree near St. Peter's dune crossover.
While everyone present was hoping to find larger aggregations of monarchs, all found some satisfaction from the beauty of monarchs almost glowing in the late afternoon light.  A gorgeous sunset helped, too.  How many monarchs will be in Cape May Point this weekend?  We really can't make a good guess, but we're hoping for another good show.  We can promise to present a monarch talk and tagging demonstration at 2 pm on Saturday at the East Shelter in Cape May Point State Park, our last such program of the year.  If you're anyone near Cape May Point we hope you'll join us.

Sunset over Delaware Bay.