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.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Full Day In Cape May

Today a group of New Jersey State Assembly members and legislative staff were our guests of honor.  Key staff leaders of the Cape May Bird Observatory and the New Jersey Audubon Society joined the full Monarch Monitoring Project team to host the event.  The political leaders in attendance are working to pass legislation that will protect monarchs, pollinators, and natural habitats while limiting the spread of invasive plants. We were delighted to give our honored guests first hand experiences with iconic monarch butterflies and with the native plants and garden landscapes that they are working to preserve.  Much of the day was spent  in the gardens of Cape May Point.  These gardens showcased the aesthetically pleasing and environmentally mindful way that native landscaping can offer habitat for a variety of animals and a sense of community pride.  

Monarch nectaring on lantana
Our VIP guests were delighted to visit the milkweed
patch in Bill & Edie Schuhl's garden.

The group of assembly members and legislative staff were able to witness many monarch tagging demos in the gardens.  They also attended the public demo at Cape May Point State Park to see the educational outreach that is so vital to monarch conservation work.  These public programs continue every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through October 12.

MMP Field Coordinator Louise Zemaitis educates visitors
at today's tagging demo.  Photo courtesy John Reilly.
The day was full of many insect sightings, information, good questions, and people happy to share answers.  Conservation is tied closely to public awareness.  Today it seems we have taken a positive step toward monarch conservation.  The visiting lawmakers seemed fully aware that we can all have lasting impacts if we chose to exist in a way that is mindful of the natural world.

Orange Sulphur

Wildlife habitat gardens support a wide variety of wildlife.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Goodbye visitors!

The winds switched to an easterly direction today. The Monarchs that had stuck around to fatten up on nectar yesterday were able to glide out across the Delaware Bay, and they left shortly after the 9am census. We have done tons of tagging the past two days, so I can wave the butterflies off happily on the rest of their journey. It was this time last year when Samm Wehman's recaptured Monarch was first tagged, and I wonder if any of the ones I tag today will also be found on in Mexico or somewhere along the migratory route.

Even the skippers and buckeyes seem to be gone. But I did notice more orange sulfurs than we had previously. Looking forward to the next influx, there's sure to be another! Just waiting for those northwesterly winds to return.

Monarchs feed on any nectar-producing flower they can find
during the southbound migration.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Unexpected bonus day!

With tiny shreds of sunlight making it through the clouds and weak winds, I had low hopes for the day.  Much to my surprise, we had a great count for Monarchs. When I was looking at the butterfly bushes in the Pavillion Circle I could count up to 25 Monarchs nectaring at a time! Side-by-side there are some other beautiful butterflies at those bushes which you may want to try your hand at identifying (seen below). Many visitors crowded around to share the beautiful sight, and had their emerging Monarch biology questions answered. It's funny how such a wondrous event can really pique people's interest in a topic that otherwise would slip past the radar of most people's everyday thoughts. Suddenly biology, physiology, and genetics become accessible, even intriguing, for people.  I am so happy to share my interests with all of you!

American Lady, notice the two eyespots on the hind wing.
You can tell it apart from the Painted lady which would have 4 eyespots.

Cloudless sulfur, a large and vibrant yellow butterfly.

Angela Demarse discusses monarch biology with visitors
at Sunday's tagging demo.  Look for Angela and the rest of
the team as they tag monarchs around Cape May Point.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Lots of incoming visitors

The wonderful influx of Monarchs from yesterday's winds left some stragglers behind today. Monarchs were seen gliding all around the dunes this morning. The driving census was about half of what it was yesterday, which was still enough to keep the taggers busy all day long. Butterfly bushes everywhere on the Point had fluttering visitors throughout the day. Aside from Monarchs, Common Buckeyes are around in big numbers too, fascinating everyone who sees them with their purple-blue eyespots.

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia), photo credit: Tom Reed


Another interesting insect observation: these big stinkbugs must've blown in on the same winds because they arrived in big numbers yesterday too.



Those Monarchs that were still around the Point today seemed to be storing less fat than those we found yesterday. That means those ones we caught today will possibly be around nectaring for a couple of days before taking off on the rest of their migration. Although the upcoming winds are mostly Southerly, we can remain hopeful that these Monarchs still nectaring will provide us enough eye-candy until the next influx!



A large and enthusiastic crowd was drawn in for the tagging demonstration, where the whole MMP crew had a chance to jump in on discussion about our own Monarch research, their life cycles, biology,and conservation.

If you haven't made it yet, our demos are every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday @ 2pm in the State park pavillion, through October 12, and we hope to see you there!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Best Day of the Year (So Far)

MMP volunteer Michael O'Brien photographed these two monarchs as
they glided over the dunes at Cape May Point this morning.

I hope that many of you reading this blog were in Cape May Point today.  The weather was glorious, and for most of the day we were seeing monarchs everywhere.  Five members of the team were actively tagging for part or all of the day,  and we did a whole lot of tagging and teaching.  The Cape was crowded -- a gorgeous September Saturday can be as busy as a summer day -- and as we were tagging we invariably drew questions from curious passersby, which quickly evolved into mini-lessons about monarch biology.  A huge crowd, over 100 people, attended our 2 pm tagging demo, and an additional monarch lesson was given to a prominent regional conservation group, Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River and Its Tributaries, by our Field Coordinator Louise Zemaitis.  I suspect that our team educated well over 250 people today.


One of many monarchs visiting Cape May Point today.


The census tally was the highest of the year so far, with a value of 122.1 monarchs/hour.  Unfortunately, the third and final census of the day (3:00 pm) tallied fewer monarchs than did the first two runs.  Our sense is that many monarchs arrived into Cape May Point in the morning, but then many departed for Delaware in the afternoon.  We're tempted to feel disappointed when monarchs are leaving Cape May, but of course they need to leave quickly when the winds are in their favor, they've got 2,000 miles to go before they get to their Mexican winter home.

Southeast winds are forecast for tomorrow, and those are not winds that typically bring monarchs into Cape May.  We expect a slower day, but of course we're always just guessing about the future, we have no magic crystal ball.  But it's very likely that we'll see other big monarch days this fall, perhaps one or more with a greater number of monarchs than were seen today.  So do as we do, come to Cape May Point just as often as you can.  We're out there every day.  If it's a slow day for monarchs, there are always other wonders to enjoy.  We're still seeing many butterflies in addition to monarchs, as shown below.  And there are always those birds, dragonflies, wildflowers ... as we like to say, there's no such thing as a bad day in Cape May.

Red admirals are easy to find in Cape May right now, especially along
the yellow trail in Cape May Point State Park, where some rotting
pears are providing a tasty meal for these and other species.

Eastern tailed blues are around, too.  Train your eyes low to see this one,
it rarely flies higher than waist height.


Friday, September 26, 2014

Busy Day for MMP Team

It was a gorgeous day in Cape May, mostly sunny with gentle breezes from the north.  Our census total jumped up to 61/hour, but that just begins to tell the story.  Monarchs seemed to be arriving into Cape May all day, and during the afternoon we watched as monarchs dropped from the sky into the gardens all around Cape May Point.  Our team mobilized and by late afternoon four of us were tagging.  As we tagged we all found ourselves giving impromptu monarch biology lessons to the many visitors who stopped to ask questions.

We also had a lively tagging demo this afternoon, with a good number of attentive children in the audience.  The lively conversations and questions generated by the demo kept me there for two full hours.  We'll be talking about monarchs and showing how they are tagged again this Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.

Our project made the television news again, this time on Philadelphia's CBS station, channel 3.  You can view the piece here: http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2014/09/26/local-experts-say-monarch-butterflies-suffered-severe-decline-in-population-due-to-destroyed-natural-habitats/

Tomorrow's weather forecast is for another beautiful day, with lots of sun and gentle breezes from the northeast.  Monarchs will be on the move.  Some will surely leave Cape May Point and head to Delaware, and some may pass right over our little seaside town, riding those ideal winds of migration, but there's a good chance we'll see many more monarchs arriving into the gardens and natural habitats of Cape May.  Soon the seaside goldenrod will begin to bloom on the dunes, offering another great nectar plant to the migrating monarchs.  It will be a good weekend to visit Cape May, with the possibility of a great monarch show.  Birding should very good, and a big influx of dragonflies is also possible.  The critters fool us sometimes, so we don't promise anything, but we all have high hopes.  We'll let you know if reality matches our lofty expectations.  And if you find any spectacular monarch concentrations at a spot in Cape May Point that we might not have found, please track us down and let us know!  We'll be the ones with the butterfly nets.

Dick Walton explains monarch biology to eager listeners
at today's tagging demo.
Lindsey Brendel tagged monarchs for more than half an hour at today's demo,
as fascinated visitors wanted to watch the process over and over.

Here Lindsey releases a monarch that she has just tagged; can you see it flying away
up near the top of the frame?



Thursday, September 25, 2014

Monarchs on Rain Delay

Today the monarchs were mimicking what many of us in Cape May were doing, waiting out the wind and rain in safe, dry spots.  Since a monarch weighs only half a gram, they can't really fight through rain and wind.  Monarchs roost in weather like this, which means they find a dry place, like the underside of a branch covered by a canopy of leaves, and wait for better weather.  Today was also overcast, which can also deter butterfly sightings.  Monarchs use the warmth of the sun to heat their bodies and flight muscles.  With the lack of sun, and constant rainy weather, not a single monarch was spotted on the 9am or noon census.

On the bright side, two monarchs are ready to emerge from their chrysalides in the terrarium at the Cape May Bird Observatory Northwood Center.  They will almost certainly emerge within the day.  If you need to see a monarch, CMBO is your best bet.  We expect better conditions for monarchs on Friday and through the weekend, but there's no way to know how many monarchs will arrive into Cape May.  Large flight or small, we'll report back to you here.

Monarch caterpillar in the terrarium at the CMBO Northwood Center.
We still have many caterpillars and chrysalides on display.