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.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The 2014 MMP Team

September 1, 2014.

The Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project begins each year on the first of September.  The first order of business today was the 3 census runs, 5-mile slow drives during which monarchs encountered along the route are tallied.  For details about the census, visit our project website,, and click on the "Census" tab in the box on the lower right side.  As per protocol, the census was conducted at approximately 9 am, 12 noon, and 3 pm today.

The other business of the day was to orient this year's seasonal staff to our project.  We're fortunate to be working with two extremely enthusiastic young biologists this year.  Each brings different skills and experience to the project, and both show an intense interest in monarch migration and biology.  They seem happy to be in Cape May, and we're delighted that they are here.

Angela Demarse (left) comes to us from Windsor, Ontario, and most recently from Ontario's legendary Algonquin Park, where she was studying the biodiversity of the Canadian Shield ecosystem just a few weeks ago.  We offer a few quotes from our correspondence with Angela that led to our eagerness to bring her onto our team.

"Throughout my degree I’ve taken courses in ornithology, entomology, ecology, as well as several amazing field courses focusing on field identification of birds and other taxa, and their natural history. My passion for birds and insects has increased tenfold throughout this learning process, and now I spend all the time I can outdoors with my binoculars and bug net. Field research is my calling."

"Monarch migration is a fascinating phenomenon, the specifics of which I investigated in detail in a behavioural neurobiology course last semester. So much of the behaviour is still shrouded in mystery, so the Monarch Technician position really piques my interest. I am also aware of the decline of Monarch populations in recent years due to milkweed eradication and agricultural practices, and I wish to contribute to the conservation and recovery of Monarchs through public education and scientific findings."

"Insects and wildlife are passions of mine, so naturally my dream future career would allow me to pursue species and habitat protection and conservation. Educating the public is a hugely important factor in conservation, and the chance to speak to interested Cape May's visitors and possibly influence the way they interact with nature (for instance, by planting milkweed in their gardens or learning to rear monarchs themselves) is an exciting prospect."

Lindsey Brendel, at right in the photo above, is from White Lake, Michigan, where her family has a small farm.  Lindsey's background is a bit different from many of our previous team members, in that her background is more in communication than science.  She has demonstrated a tremendous passion for monarch butterflies, rearing hundreds in her bedroom at home each of the last two years, producing a short film about monarch biology, and reading absolutely everything she could find about monarch natural history.  As with Angela, Lindsey's words tell her story best.

"I was first introduced to this amazing insect two years ago when I came across a black, white, and yellow striped caterpillar on a milkweed plant in one of our hay fields.  My interest was immediately sparked.  From that point on, I researched, raised, photographed, filmed, and wrote about this amazing animal.  In my first year of conservation I raised and released eight butterflies.  In 2013, I raised and released one hundred and twenty four fourth-generation monarchs.  Currently, I am raising over 400 eggs and caterpillars at various instals."

"I view this remarkable animal as my connection to the earth, and am constantly expanding my learning about monarchs, and sharing the knowledge I have gained with others.  I have been asked to do a lecture series at my local library about monarchs, and my conservation experience."

"My career ambition is to be a global storyteller and to combine my love of nature with my love of film.  I aspire to be a naturalist documentarian, and educate others on conservation through documentary films.  I believe that film has the power to elicit a strong connection to the viewer, and I feel that many worthy conservation causes can be further illuminated through this medium.  I also enjoy writing and photography, and one day hope to publish a book on my  own experience raising Monarchs.  To me, this animal's ability to grow, change, and migrate is one of the most amazing occurrences on the planet, and too special not to be shared with as many people as possible, in as many ways as I can."   

You can see why we're excited to have Angela and Lindsey here in Cape May.  We are sure that the next two months will bring us many great experiences with monarch butterflies, such as the scene at left, from this morning, when we discovered a monarch egg actually laid on the back of a milkweed-eating aphid.  We're equally certain that these two talented and enthusiastic young naturalists will help us educate and inform hundreds of visitors to Cape May Point about the remarkable migration biology of monarch butterflies as they conduct the scientific studies that enable us to add to the understanding of these amazing butterflies.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Eve of a New Season

August 31, 2014.  The Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project season is officially September 1 to October 31.  Tomorrow morning we begin our 24th year of data collection and public programming as we study the southbound migration of monarch butterflies through Cape May Point, New Jersey.  We can't wait to begin!

We're pleased to have 2 young biologists working with us this year as our seasonal technicians.  Tomorrow we'll introduce you to the new staff and provide an overview of the project.  Stay tuned throughout the next two months as we count monarchs, tag monarchs, and teach Cape May Point visitors about monarch biology and migration.

The monarch butterflies we see in Cape May are heading to the mountains of central Mexico, where they'll cluster with thousands of others, as shown above.  Not all will survive this 2,000 mile journey, but our tagging studies show that some of them will get there.  Come join us at Cape May Point this autumn and marvel and the wondrous migration of the monarch butterfly.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Seeking Intern for Autumn 2014

Each autumn the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project hires one or more seasonal biologist to help with the project.  We normally don't announce this position nor begin to evaluate applications until summer, but if you or someone you know might want to work with us next fall, we'd be happy to accept their application at any time.  Here is the position description from last year; it's unlikely anything will be changed for 2014.

INTERN (1) to assist with ongoing Monarch butterfly migration project at New Jersey Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory, Sep. 1 - Oct. 31.  Duties include daily road censuses of migrating Monarchs, tagging, data entry, and educating the public about the project and Monarch biology. Successful applicant will be expected to work long hours during peak Monarch flights, shorter hours during lulls. Careful data collecting and entry skills, and excellent interpersonal skills a must; familiarity with insect ecology and migration a plus but not required. Must have own vehicle. Salary $800/mo.; housing and reimbursement for gas provided. Send cover letter indicating position of interest, resume outlining relevant experience, and three references (including email addresses and phone numbers) to MIKE CREWE, New Jersey Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory, Northwood Center, 701 East Lake Drive, PO Box 3, Cape May Point, NJ 08212 or email:   Applications accepted until positions are filled.
NJ Audubon is an equal opportunity employer.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Monarchists Repeat as Carbon Footprint Champions

The team receives the Carbon Footprint Award from NJ Audubon President Eric Stiles.
left to right: Stiles and Monarchists Paige, Lu, Mark, Linda, Louise, Michael, Meg, Ron, and Kashi.

We are proud to announce that the Monarchists team won the Carbon Footprint Award for the second consecutive year at the World Series of Birding.  We found 141 species of birds and 9 species of butterflies on the day of competition, traveling just by foot and bicycle.

We started at midnight a listened for birds throughout the night.

As usual, Ron Rollet coordinated a number of yummy meal breaks.

The purpose of the World Series of Birding is to raise money for various conservation causes through a day of friendly competition.  The Monarchists' effort is now the primary source of funding for the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project.  Read all about the team's effort and learn how you too can offer support by visiting this website:

An ice water foot bath in mid-afternoon
provided refreshment for the team.
As night fell the team was still birding.
We had fun telling stories of the day at the Awards Ceremony.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Please Support the Monarchists!

In just a few hours, at midnight, The World Series of Birding will begin.  Throughout May 10, 2014, teams will search for birds in a friendly competition, with each team raising funds to support a conservation cause.

The Monarchist birders and support staff, l to r:
Kashi Davis, Meg Hedeen, Michael O'Brien, Louise Zemaitis, Lu Daniels,
Ron Rollet, Mark Garland, Paige Cunningham.

Once again the Monarchist team will compete, raising funds to support the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project.  We compete in the most environmentally friendly category, hoping to win the "Carbon Footprint" award by traveling only by foot and bicycle all day.  A few days after the event (once we have rested and recovered), we will post the results of our efforts.

Here's a great opportunity to support the research and education work of the Monarch Monitoring Project.  Find out how you can lend support at this webpage:

Listening for birds before dawn.

Cycling to the next birding spot at sunrise.
You contributions support our efforts to
protect migratory monarch butterflies.

Birding at the neighborhoods of Cape May Point.
We'll be out there again on May 10; wave if you see us!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Discouraging news

The continental population of migratory monarchs is at the lowest point since studies of the overwintering areas have begun.  See the sad details here:

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Last day as the monarch intern for 2013

So today wraps up the season for monarchs in Cape May. As the 2013 field technician, I do have to say I'm very sad to leave behind this incredible opportunity. I enjoyed every moment of my job, even though it has been quite a low and disappointing year for many.

I always enjoyed censusing by car, whether we had a good number of monarchs or none. I loved going out and tagging monarchs, even on the days when there weren't many around to be tagged. I loved giving informal demos to locals around the point, or visitors in the CMBO.

I appreciated every conversation I had with someone, whether it was a local or a visitor who traveled for hours or days to be a part of what we do and learn more about our project. It was truly inspiring to see the look on someone's face when they got to release a monarch butterfly and send it on its way to Mexico. 

It was touching for me when visitors "adopted" their own monarch in memory of a passed loved one. It made my heart melt when I had groups of children who never even saw a butterfly before, stop and hold all of their attention on a tagging demonstration and smile with such intensity as they released a monarch off their fingertips, that it will leave an impression in my heart forever. 

Photo taken by Dave Magpiong

I had fun raising 40+ butterflies from eggs at the CMBO (and still going... now I have a huge tent set up in my dining room with 13 caterpillars of assorted sizes and 4 chrysalids that may emerge any day now!). 

I also loved coordinating monarch themed outfits to wear on a daily basis.. although most of the time it just happened to work out that way :)

Photo taken by Louise Zemaitis

I also want to thank some very important people who have been a significant part of the project. 

Louise Zemaitis and Mark Garland have supervised the project and helped me tremendously the past 2 months. They have been kind, helpful, and I consider them both close friends of mine after how much closer I have become to both of them. They have provided endless abundances of information about monarchs to help me learn and educate others during the duration of our project. I also have to thank Michael O'Brien and Paige Cunningham for their endless support and encouragement as well.

Dick Walton and Patsy Eickelberg spent 3 weeks in Cape May during the monarch season and I am thankful for every moment I got to spend with them. Dick, the directer of the MMP is an extrodinary naturalist and really offered me a lot of insight and guidance throughout the season. He spent time sharing some of his other passions with me and teaching me about dragonflies and jumping spiders. I learned a tremendous amount from him while he was here and hope to always keep in touch as he has been an excellent mentor to me and I'm sure he will continue to be throughout my naturalist's career that lies ahead. His wife Patsy is one of the sweetest people I have ever met. She is so warm and pleasant and taught me a few tricks up her sleeve of catching handfuls of monarchs in one net sweep at a time. She is by far the best butterfly catcher I have seen.

Lynn Lee is a very special woman who I am fortunate to call my friend. I feel as though her and I bonded during the time she stayed in Cape May Point, traveling hours from her hometown in Derwood, Maryland to help with our monarch research. Lynn rears hundreds of monarchs and brings her entire "monarch nursery" set-up, and wholesome garden of home-grown milkweed with her when she comes. She taught me every trick in the book when it comes to rearing monarchs, varying from hanging chrysalids from dental floss, to arranging them how you want carefully with straight pins. Lynn has such a spiritual connection to monarch butterflies, and she is passionate about and invests her entire heart into everything that she does to make our world a better place.

Lynn Lee with her rearing cages

I also have become close with many of the local gardeners around Cape May point; Bill and Edie Schuhl, Pecky Witonski, and Patti Domm. Without their incredible gardens and all of the work they put into them, I wouldn't have had many monarchs to tag! Their yards provide safe havens and a lasting supply of resources to monarch butterflies and many other species as well.

I want to thank many of our other volunteers, including but not limited to LuAnn Daniels, Megan Walker and Kashi Davis for your constant help and support of the MMP! Kashi you have always been there for me in all that I do and I appreciate every bit you have done for me!

Thank you to every person who has traveled to Cape May from all over the world to be a part of our nature-appreciating community and take interest in the research that we do. Every smile we have gotten, every donation we have recieved and every bit of feedback is all appreciated tremendously. 

Just another day at work, having the best job in the world.
I will miss this!
I can't thank everyone enough for this outstanding season and I will carry the experiences I have gained, the knowledge I have learned, and the memories of every monarch I have tagged with me everywhere that I go.