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.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Support the Monarch Monitoring Project through the World Series of Birding



    If this looks familiar, well, there’s a reason.  We’re doing it again.  The 33rd annual World Series of Birding will be held on Saturday, May 14, 2016.  The Monarchists team will return for our sixth year.  Again we will compete in two categories, eligible for the Carbon Footprint Award (no motor vehicles) and for the Cape Island Cup (searching only on Cape Island, the area south of the Cape May Canal).  We had been on a winning streak, earning the Carbon Footprint Award in 2013 and 2014 and the Cape Island Cup in 2012, but luck wasn’t with us in 2015, nor were the birds.  We ended up finding just 111 species of birds.

    More importantly, however, we raise funds for the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project, a research and education project of the New Jersey Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory.  The Monarchists team will be unchanged from the last few years, with Louise Zemaitis (Captain), Lu Ann Daniels, Meghan Walker Hedeen, Michael O’Brien, and Mark Garland.  We are fortunate to have a “support staff” of Ron “Mr. Scones” Rollet, Paige Cunningham, and Chris Kisiel “Kashi” Davis.

    The World Series of Birding is a friendly bird-finding competition that takes place each May in New Jersey.  The Carbon Footprint category is in just its eighth year, and the award is given to the team that finds the most birds without using a motor vehicle.  Our team will walk and ride bicycles around Cape May, hoping for a day when migrants are abundant.  While it’s not part of the formal competition, we also count the number of butterfly species we find.  Sponsors can choose to pledge for butterflies and/or birds.

     Once again this year donors have the option to make pledges online.  Please visit our team’s page on the World Series of Birding website and you can make your pledge or contribution here.  You can also do it the old-fashioned way by sending a check (details at the bottom of the page).


    We are hoping to find more than 120 species of birds by sight or by sound around Cape May on May 14, plus 10 or more species of butterflies.  Think we can do it?  Check this site after the event for the results.


    Our team is raising funds for the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project, founded by Dick Walton.  Volunteers with this project (including all of us on this team) have been tagging and counting monarchs that migrate through Cape May for more than twenty years.  Dr. Lincoln Brower, considered the world’s leading expert on monarch butterflies, serves as the scientific advisor to this project.  It’s believed that this project is the longest continuous census of a migratory insect that has ever been conducted.  Additionally, project volunteers give dozens of scheduled and impromptu educational sessions around Cape May each September and October as migratory monarch butterflies are seen around Cape May.

    Recent studies have shown that the numbers of migratory monarchs wintering in Mexico have declined dramatically, yet numbers from the Cape May study have not shown a similar decline, suggesting that the east coast population of monarchs is doing better than those in other parts of the US.  Perhaps we have stewardship lessons we can share with those in other regions, but it’s vital for us to continue gathering data.

  The Monarch Monitoring Project accomplishes this important scientific research and education with a small budget, but funds are needed.  Each year we hire young biologists for two months to conduct field work and assist in the educational presentations.  Funds are also needed to purchase tags and other equipment used in the project.  Many of the interns who worked with us have moved on to fulfilling careers in biology and/or education.

    We’re participating in the World Series of Birding to support the Monarch Monitoring Project.  If you’d like to help, you can pledge your support or just send a contribution for any amount.  The simplest way to pledge support is to visit our page on the World Series of Birding website.  Pledges are typically offered on a “per species” basis -- donors offer a certain amount per species of bird seen during the event.  We’re planning to count butterflies as well as birds (hoping for 10 species or more), and we welcome pledges tied to the number of birds, butterflies, or both that we find and identify on May 14.  If that’s too complicated for you, simply send a check for any amount written to New Jersey Audubon, with “Monarch Project #024” written in the memo area, and mail to Mark Garland at PO Box 154, Cape May Pt., NJ  08212, or give your check to any member of the team.


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, http://www.monarchmonitoringproject.com/mmptwo.html.

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

Maybe?

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.