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, October 2, 2015

Sorry we asked!

Last Saturday's blog post was titled, "Can someone change the wind, please?"  I guess we should have been more specific.  The wind has changed, indeed, but not in the way we might have liked.  Sustained winds of 30 mph or more are now predicted for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  That's a big change from last week!  The direction?  Well, that hasn't changed -- north-northeast for Friday, straight northeast for Saturday and Sunday.  There's of rain in the forecast for Friday and Saturday.  Monday's northeast winds are predicted to be "only" 25 mph.

As you might guess, these are not good conditions for monarch butterflies.  We expect a very slow weekend, monarch-wise.  We'll still be out there counting, whatever the weather (census counts of zero are still important data points).  While our 11 am drop-in programs at the Triangle Park are cancelled when it's raining, we'll still have our 2 pm tagging demos at Cape May Point State Park on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  We might not have any monarchs to tag, but at least we can tell the story of monarch migration.

At least it looks like Hurricane Joaquin will pass well to our east and spare our little seaside town from the trauma of a hurricane strike.  Hurricanes are notoriously unpredictable, however, so keep paying attention to the forecasts and weather conditions if you're considering a visit to Cape May.

Long-range forecasts are never terribly reliable, but at this time the meteorologists are calling for a long-awaited return to relatively gentle northwest winds next Tuesday and Wednesday.  If the forecast holds, these could be good days for the migration of birds and monarch butterflies into Cape May.  We'll report back in a few days with any updates to the forecast.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tuesday update

Monarch numbers around Cape May Point have remained fairly steady, as expected with the continuing east and northeasterly winds.  The forecast is now calling for several rainy days later this week, some mixed with strong winds, and the possibility of very heavy winds if tropical storm Joaquin decides to visit.  The long-range forecast looks good for an influx of monarchs next week; we'll cross our fingers and keep watching the forecasts.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Can someone change the wind, please?

We've been stuck in an unusual wind pattern for almost a week now, with winds blowing from the northeast or the east.  Not the wind direction that brings migrants into Cape May, so it's been slow for monarchs, slow for dragonflies, slow for songbirds, slow for raptors.  Typically in the autumn we see frequent cold fronts, with winds blowing from the north or from the northwest, and those winds generally deliver lots of migrants into Cape May.

Two days ago we reported that a change of wind direction was forecast for next Tuesday and Wednesday.  They've changed the forecast now, and here are the predicted wind directions for the next TEN days:

Today: ENE
Tomorrow: ENE
Monday: E
Tuesday: NNE
Wednesday: NNE
Thursday: NE
Friday: NE
Saturday: NE
Sunday: NE
Monday: NE

More than a little discouraging for those of us hoping to see big numbers of migrants.  The good news is that the long range forecast often changes.  We'll hope that the weather pattern changes sooner than is currently predicted.

In the meantime, we'll still be out there counting monarchs, tagging monarchs, and presenting educational talks.  There should still be some monarchs around every day, we're at the very peak of the migratory season.  These tenacious little butterflies fool us sometimes, too, and perhaps we'll see a significant influx on the northeast winds.  But more likely it will be a slow stretch of the migration until the wind direction changes.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Thursday update

Moderately strong northeast winds blew into Cape May on Tuesday and Wednesday, strong enough to keep most monarchs from crossing Delaware Bay.  Numbers remained steady, with most butterflies staying low and in sheltered areas, out of the wind.  These were good days to visit the gardens around Cape May Point.

Female monarch gathers nectar from a tiny English ivy
flower. This ivy vine grows amidst a sheltered grove
of trees at Cape May Point.
By Thursday morning the winds had diminished, though they still blew gently from the northeast.  Monarchs don't like to cross the Bay in strong winds, but it seems that many departed for Delaware with the morning's gentle winds.  A few monarchs may have arrived, but the numbers of monarchs in Cape May were down considerably by day's end.

The meteorologists are predicting northeast or east winds for the next four days.  These are not winds the usually bring many monarchs into Cape May, so we're expecting a bit of a lull in the migration.  If you're coming to Cape May, don't despair, there will still be monarchs around the Point, and probably in numbers greater than you'll find in most other locales.  But we don't expect the next surge of migrating monarch to arrive until the wind switches back around to the northwest.  The current forecast calls for northwest winds next Tuesday and Wednesday.  Let's hope the forecast holds.  This is prime time for monarch migration, there are many more that we're sure to see traveling through Cape May Point during the next four weeks.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Monday update

Steady winds from 10 to 20 mph blew from the northeast all day today.  In these winds the monarchs didn't fly around much.  There are still good numbers of monarchs around Cape May Point, but you might not have noticed them if you didn't look carefully into the gardens around the Point, where the monarchs were busy feeding on flowers and resting in sheltered areas.  Tomorrow's forecast is for more of the same, so we expect the monarch activity to be much as it was today.

A Few FAQs

Members of our CMBO - Monarch Monitoring Project team are always eager to share information about monarch biology and answer questions that come to us in person and via e-mail.  There are a few questions that we receive frequently, so we are sharing those questions and the answers in today's blog post.  We may come back with more FAQs in a week or two.

When is the best time to see the most monarchs in Cape May Point?

Oh, how we wish we could predict this!  We'd have the biggest monarch party you can imagine if we knew when the biggest flights would happen.  But we can't know.  It's partly dependent on the weather -- autumn cold fronts that bring northwest winds typically deliver lots of monarchs and migrating birds into Cape May -- but some cold fronts bring more than others.  All we can say is that most years most monarchs come between Sept. 10 and Oct. 20.  During that period there are usually 4 to 6 distinct peaks in monarch numbers with lulls in between.  The longer you stay, the better your chances to see a major monarch movement.  But come any day during that period and there are probably going to be a lot of monarchs around.

Where are the monarchs roosting?

We usually don't know, and believe me, we want to know.  When there are a lot of monarchs around Cape May Point, especially when it's getting chilly at night, monarchs often cluster together overnight.  We spend a lot of time wandering around Cape May Point during the late afternoon, and so far this year we haven't found any big roosts.  We know a lot of places where they have roosted in previous years, and we check those spots, but the monarchs frequently fool us.  We need your help!  If you're in Cape May Point and see big roosts of monarchs, please let us know!  The simplest way is to just call the CMBO Northwood Center at (609) 884-2736, but you can also send an e-mail message to the CMBO Monarch Monitoring Project via

Can I bring monarchs to you for tagging or ship them to you from further north to help them on their migrations?

We hear this fairly often and the answer is an emphatic NO!  Monarchs have evolved to migrate from all over the eastern ⅔ of the US and from southern Canada down to the overwintering areas in Mexico.  Leave them where you find them!  They instinctively know how to migrate.  Bringing them to Cape May might not be that much of a favor, as the Delaware Bay crossing is potentially quite hazardous to monarchs.  Many migrating from areas to our north might otherwise travel west of Delaware Bay and avoid the long water crossing altogether.  Trust that monarchs know how to migrate.  And we don't need extra monarchs brought to us for tagging purposes, we have plenty that find their way to Cape May Point, thank you.

I want to tag monarchs, can you give me some tags?

No, sorry.  We don't make the tags, we buy them, and we buy only as many as we think our staff and volunteers will use (that's Julia Druce, 2012 Field Naturalist, with a tagged monarch at left).  If you want to tag monarchs, you can order tags from Monarch Watch at

Can we help you tag monarchs at Cape May Point?

We have an experienced team tagging monarchs in Cape May Point, and we don't need more help here, but we do need help tagging monarchs in other parts of Cape May County, north of the Cape May Canal, as part of our new Monarch Ambassador program.  Our trainings are finished for 2015, but we will hold more Monarch Ambassador trainings in August and September of 2016.  Come to one of the training sessions and then help expand our understanding of monarch migration through the entire Cape May peninsula by counting and tagging monarchs at locations such as Villas, Stone Harbor, Strathmere, Reeds Beach, and in southeastern Cumberland County.  And we do provide a limited number of tags to those who volunteer as Monarch Ambassadors.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Visit us at Cape May Point

We are moving into the heart of the monarch season at Cape May Point.  While monarch numbers are down a bit on Saturday, as expected with the unseasonably warm weather and southerly breezes, we expect many more monarchs to migrate through Cape May during the next month.

Our public programming is now if full swing.  Our second tagging demo of the year was held of Friday, when about 40 visitors listened as we told the story of monarch biology and migration.  Then they watched as our seasonal field naturalists Lindsey Brendel and Katie Burns tagged and released several monarchs.

MMP Director and Founder Dick Walton addresses the audience.
Tagging demos are held on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 2:00 pm at Cape May Point State Park.  Find our team at the East Shelter, the covered picnic pavilion adjacent to the hawk watch platform.  No reservations are needed and there is no charge for this program, though contributions are accepted.  Tagging demos will continue on Wednesdays through October 7, Fridays through October 9, Saturdays through October 17, and Sundays through October 11.

You can also visit with members of the Monarch Monitoring Project any day through October 18 at 11:00 am at Cape May Point's Triangle Park, located at the junction of Lighthouse and Coral Avenues.  There's no fee for this program.  We do cancel when there is heavy rain.

Field Naturalists Katie Burns (left) and Lindsey Brendel (right)
discuss the monarch life cycle.