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.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

End of Season

Seaside goldenrod is down to its last few flowers, and the monarchs are
gone from the dunes at Cape May Point.  It's starting to look like winter.

It's Saturday, November 1, and the two-month field season for the Monarch Monitoring Project is finished.  For the last 61 days we have conducted our driving census several times each day, providing us with a snapshot of how this year's migration compares to previous years.  We will analyze these data during the off season, but you can see the raw data on our website here.

No monarchs were counted on yesterday's final censuses.  This is as it should be, the monarchs need to be further south by the end of October.  Many have been seen arriving at the monarch reserves in Mexico in recent days.

It's been a terrific field season for our project.  Monarch numbers were up from last year.  Fundraising success in recent years allowed us to hire two assistants this year, and we offer heartfelt thanks to Lindsey Brendel and Angela Demarse for their great work.  We'll miss you here in Cape May and we hope you'll be back soon.

Lindsey Brendel
Angela Demarse
       

The field season is over, but the work of the Monarch Monitoring Project continues throughout the year.  Now we must assemble all the data from the field season, send all our tagging data to Monarch Watch, and analyze the results of our field season.  Early next year we'll begin preparations for the 2015 field season, we'll work to raise funds for the coming season, and we'll watch for reports of tag recoveries, hoping that a few of the monarchs we tagged this autumn will be found in Mexico or elsewhere along the migratory route.  The frequency of posts to our blog will drop dramatically, but we promise to post promptly if we learn of any tag recoveries.

Thanks to all who have made contributions to sponsor our project.  Thanks to all who have come to our tagging demos or engaged our staff in conversations while we were working in the field.  And thanks to all who are working to project these remarkable butterflies, whether planting a butterfly garden, supporting legislation, educating others, and/or visiting the monarch reserves in Mexico.  You are all part of our team.

Tagging demo, October 3, 2014

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Monarchs Still Migrating



Female monarch THW 569

The monarch pictured above has already made impressive headway on her journey south.  With frost already having hit northern New Jersey, Delia Smith brought this female monarch that she had reared, 155 miles south, from Wagner Farms Arboretum to Cape May Point.  In a chance meeting with one of our field technicians, Delia's monarch was tagged before it was released in the Triangle Park this afternoon.  This female now sports the tag code THW 569, and we have the highest hopes that she will continues a successful migration southward, and hopefully be recovered along her journey.  

Delia shared with our team that she is in her final semester, studying landscape architecture at Temple University.  She also shared that she educates and advocates for the use of native plants in landscaping.  In saying this, Delia is already a volunteer for the Monarch Monitoring Project.  The importance of using of backyard and public space as a place for butterfly gardening and wildlife habitat is something that our team shares with visitors every day.  


Chrysalis in Triangle Park.
In doing our field work, we see far fewer chrysalides outdoors than we do caterpillars.  Today, we did spot one in the Triangle Park.  It is at the end of the walkway, (where you can turn right and walk toward the benches and picnic table), nestled in the morning glory.

It is late in the season, but monarch butterflies and caterpillars are still being seen all over the point.  There are still unhatched eggs on the tropical milkweed in Triangle Park.  The monarch life cycle, (from egg to adult butterfly) takes about one month.  The chances of these eggs becoming successful migratory butterflies is slim. Monarchs are tropical butterflies and don't have the adaptation to withstand freezing temperatures, so the first heavy frost will kill any eggs or caterpillars.  


The unhatched monarch eggs laid on tropical milkweed are pushing the limits of the fall migration.




Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Recapture named TJA 034

Yesterday we found this tagged Monarch with the tag number TJA 034. Currently we don't believe this code is one of our own. This is exciting news! It means that we've likely found a tag from a different tagging effort. Who knows how far away this Monarch may have flown from? It was quite worn so I would guess it has come quite a ways. Only time will tell!

Once we find out where it was tagged, we'll learn more about Monarch migration routes, and pace if migration. We can hopefully answer some questions like: Where do the Monarchs migrating through Cape May come from? How quickly were those Monarchs moving? How long has it been travelling, and how has that contributed to its level of wear? This is what our project is all about, and I'm very excited to hear more news of our little friend.

We will report this to Monarch Watch and in due time they post a summary of all of the year's recaptures. But we get enthusiastic about recaptures and would like to speed up the process. So if you know of any other groups or individuals who are tagging, please share this post (or the one from our facebook page, Cape May Monarchs) so that we can reach out to the lucky taggers more quickly.

The Season Isn't Finished

A surprising number of monarchs are still being seen around Cape May Point -- our team tagged over 100 on Monday!  Tuesday's predicted high temperature of 72 suggests another great day for monarchs and other butterflies.  Come and enjoy them if you can, we can't expect many more days like this in 2014.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Late season update


The wrap-up day for the Autumn Birding Festival was a hit. The winds were good for bringing in hawks and birds, and some Monarchs came along with them. The numbers of Monarchs migrating today came at a moderate pace. The butterfly bush at Triange park has been a reliable source of nectar for many species butterflies. The Triangle Park is one of few gardens still providing nectar for these fall migrants, as well as Tropical Milkweed on which to lay eggs. While most Common Milkweed has succumbed to the cold, Tropical Milkweed is still flowering and remains bright green. Whether or not the Tropical Milkweed is beneficial for the Monarchs or detrimental remains to be seen, and more research will have to be done to understand the effects of this non-native host plant on Monarch migration.

Today I saw a very early instar caterpillar feeding on the Tropical Milkweed flower. The milkweed flower is the only part which actually contains protein. This is an explanation for why the Monarch adult lays the eggs at the top of the plant, often on the underside of the top leaves or flowers, in order to provide the young caterpillar with the best possible food source. I was surprised to see such small caterpillars at this time of year. It seems that this young generation of caterpillars will probably have a hard time, considering that they're at risk of experiencing any overnight frosts in the coming weeks. Sadly, this is part of evolution; only those Monarchs that emerge at the right time of year can migrate and make it to Mexico before winter hits.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Autumn Weekend

We have big news! A Monarch tagged here on October 7th by Mark Garland was re-captured yesterday in St. Marks, Florida! These updates remind us that the work we do here is contributing to the overall picture of Monarch migration routes, speed, and overall changes occuring to the butterfly throughout this journey. Maybe this won't be the only re-capture this year. We know many of you who came to our demos have sponsored Monarchs, and we are eagerly waiting to see if your Monarchs will be recaptured. For any interested potential donors, it's not too late to sponsor your own Monarch! Pick up one of our brochures at the CMBO for details.

This has been a busy weekend for the Cape May Bird Observatory & the MMP with all of the exciting events going on. Today the MMP hosted 2 different demos. One was an exciting talk given by Mark Garland including images and video taken from the over-wintering grounds in Mexico he visited: Trees covered with Monarchs, the sky swarming with Monarchs in the morning as they come down to drink dew off the grass, visitors walking gingerly so as to not accidentally step on one of the Monarchs flying all around them. I think everyone in the room left his talk with the feeling that they needed to book a trip to see this magnificent wonder of nature for themselves.

The weather for this autumn weekend has been fantastic, there have been northwest winds and sunny days with cool breezes. Though we don't have huge numbers of Monarchs, I did note today a slight increase in species diversity coming through. Below are just a few visitors to Cape May Point Triangle Park:

Red Admiral


Orange Sulphur

Common Buckeye


There's one more day of autumn weekend, if you haven't been to any of the events yet, here's the schedule: http://www.njaudubon.org/SectionCapeMayBirdObservatory/CapeMayAutumnBirdingFestival/Schedule.aspx

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Monarch Evacuation

On Tuesday morning Cape May Point was loaded with monarchs.  Numbers had been building for several days, and by Monday evening we were seeing the biggest overnight roosts that we'd found all year, such as the one shown below.




By midday Tuesday, however, the numbers had begun to drop.  We stood on the dunes and watched as monarchs flew out over Delaware Bay.  A few came back, perhaps intimidated by all the water, but most departed that day.  By late afternoon the scene was dramatically different, with only a few monarchs found in the gardens and on the goldenrods.  Most of the monarchs were gone.




Our feelings are mixed by the big departures.  We're thrilled when the monarchs are here, yet we know they have to go, there's a long journey awaiting.  And it seems the monarchs got away just in time, for on Wednesday afternoon rain and heavy wind came to Cape May, and high winds are expected to continue for several days.  Terrible weather for monarch migration.  We miss you monarchs, but we're glad you got away when you did, and we wish you good luck for the journey that awaits.