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.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Lots of August Monarchs Around Cape May

We have recently been seeing very good numbers of Monarchs around Cape May, and reports suggest that this is true throughout southern New Jersey.  Good news for fans of our favorite bug!  These butterflies aren't migrating however, these are members of the last pre-migratory generation of the year.  Their offspring will be the ones migrating to Mexico, and we expect the first of the migrants to emerge from their chrysalides later this month.

Our friends are all telling us, "It's going to be a great year for Monarchs in Cape May."  Our reply?  Maybe.  Migratory Monarchs that emerge in Cape May will be gone quickly.  The numbers we see migrating through Cape May are dependent on how well the Monarchs are doing to the north, combined with how the weather pushes the migrants.  More good news, however, is that we have received anecdotal reports from the north suggesting that number are high in many parts of the eastern U.S.  But if we see a long period of sustained east winds, as has happened in several recent autumns, many Monarchs will migrate further west and will miss Cape May entirely.  So we are cautiously optimistic, but only our daily censuses will tell us how this year's migration compares to previous years.

Our census work begins on September 1 and continues through October 31.  We are hoping that the numbers are up this year in Cape May and throughout the eastern U.S., but if that's the case, we can't conclude that the Monarchs are no longer in jeopardy.  Our census data (see graph, below) show that Monarch numbers can fluctuate wildly from one year to the next, and this is true for the entire migratory population.  We'll need several good years in a row before we can even suspect that conservation efforts are succeeding.  But you can't get several good years until you've had the first one, and we're hoping that 2017 will prove to be a great year for Monarchs in Cape May.

If you come to Cape May this month, you'll find plenty of other butterflies in addition to the Monarchs.  Comment on our blog and let us know what species you find.  Painted Lady, Spicebush Swallowtail, and American Copper, shown below, are just three of the many butterflies currently being seen in and around Cape May.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Wanted: Friend of Monarchs & Dogs

One of our new Field Naturalist Interns, Rebecca Zerlin, is faced with a dilemma.  She has been fostering a rescued dog named, "Trillium," often shortened to "Trillie."  Here's how Rebecca describes how she came to care for this dog:

"Trillie (short for Trillium) is about 3 years old, a tripod St. Bernard/Lab mix. She was being given away at a garage sale by her previous owner because they didn't want her anymore. She had never walked on a leash before or even been in a house. We don't think she had ever been to a vet before, as shown by the condition of her missing leg. In spite of her rough beginning, Trillie is silly, goofy, and just about the sweetest pup you'll meet. She loves cuddling and just wants to be loved by people. Originally she was supposed to stay with me for a few days until a better foster could be found, but the animal rescue organization hasn't found a place for her, so she is still with me."

Unlike the earlier owners, Rebecca won't abandon this dog.  We're still hoping that a home can be found for Trillie, but if that doesn't happen, she'll need to come to Cape May with Rebecca.  And the housing we have for our fall staff is leased from the state, and pets aren't permitted.

Might anyone near Cape May have a place where this lovable dog could spend the fall, while Rebecca works on the Monarch Monitoring Project?  Ideally we'd love to find a place where both Rebecca and the dog could stay.  Our season runs from the last week of August through the first week of November.  If you think you can help, or if you have an idea for us, please send an e-mail message to Monarch Monitoring Project Director Mark Garland at

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Meet Rebecca Zerlin

You don't hear much from the Monarch Monitoring Project during the off season, but we have work to accomplish throughout the year.  One of our most important tasks is to hire our seasonal Field Naturalist Interns for the fall.  This year we received many applications from highly qualified, impressive young biologists and naturalists.  It wasn't easy to make our selections, but we're excited about the two who have been hired.  Yesterday we introduced you to Stephanie Augustine, and today we hand the blog over to Rebecca Zerlin, who will be coming to Cape May from Allenton, Wisconsin.  We hope that all of our followers will help us welcome Stephanie and Rebecca to Cape May and to the Cape May Bird Observatory's Monarch Monitoring Project.

I graduated in 2014 from Unity College (in Maine) with a double major in Wildlife and Ecology. Since graduating, I've held a few seasonal jobs in the conservation field.  My top favorites so far have been working on prescribed burns and monarch tagging, so I am very excited to be joining the monarch team at Cape May!

Growing up, I  remember learning about metamorphosis with the Monarch being using as our model. Since then, I've always been so excited whenever I see one flying around. It takes me right back to being a kid again, and I think that's a similar feeling for a lot of people. I love how passionate people are about Monarchs, and I can't think of anything better than seeing that excitement from people as they learn about them.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Monarch Monitoring Project Reawakens -- Meet Stephanie Augustine

August has arrived, and here in Cape May we have begun preparations for the 2017 field season.  It's time for the blog, which stays quiet for most of the off-season, to wake up and become active again!  Our field season runs from September 1 to October 31, but we have already ordered tags, started to dust off our research equipment, and set the program schedule.  We have also hired our two seasonal Field Naturalist Interns, who will arrive in late August.

We want to introduce the new staff to everyone who follows our project.  Today we give the blog to Stephanie Augustine.

My name is Stephanie, and ever since I was two years old watching the cicadas emerge and fanning their wings to dry them, I've been surrounded by nature. Every summer I raised and released monarch butterflies, sketching life cycle stages and charting the caterpillars' progress through their instars. A childhood spent watching David Attenborough documentaries fostered a passion for wildlife, conservation, and education, and after I finished my B.S., I became a Conservation Educator at a zoo, where I worked with animals of all shapes and sizes and taught educational programs. My thirst for adventures led me to a field technician position in Costa Rica banding birds (including the Turquoise-browed Motmot in this photo). And now, joining the team in Cape May as a Monarch Naturalist is a new adventure, combining my childhood love of butterflies with my desire to contribute to conservation research and continue to work outdoors. I look forward to the upcoming days spent chasing monarchs and learning more about these beautiful and incredibly tough creatures.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Big Day for Monarchs at the World Series of Birding

Michael O'Brien provided this description of the Monarchists' efforts in the 2017 World Series of Birding.  The efforts of the Monarchists provides well over half the annual funding for the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project; we are most grateful for all support!

Monarchists and supporters, May 6, 2017.
On May 6, 2017, the CMBO Monarchists participated in their eighth consecutive World Series of Birding, our annual fundraiser for the Monarch Monitoring Project. Once again, we competed in the no “Carbon Footprint” category, which means no motorized vehicles were used. So, for twenty-four hours (well, actually more like twenty hours) we bicycled and walked around Cape Island, trying to find as many species as possible to maximize our “dollars per bird” raised for the MMP. Due to some scheduling conflicts, the Monarchists fielded a slightly smaller team in 2017 than in past years, including team captain Louise Zemaitis along with Meg Walker Hedeen and Michael O’Brien.

Listening for birds in the wee hours before dawn.
Our day began promptly at midnight with a search for owls in West Cape May. It was a pleasantly balmy night with overcast skies, but a stiff breeze out of the Southeast meant less than ideal listening conditions for owls. That wind direction also meant very little chance for nocturnal migrants, which would more likely drift our way on westerly or southwesterly winds. But we got lucky right away with a begging juvenile Great Horned Owl – lucky for us, baby birds are always hungry now matter how windy it is! Shortly thereafter, we accidentally flushed a roosting Wild Turkey, which was a mutually startling experience, and turned out to be our only turkey of the day. Excited by a good start, we trudged along searching for nocturnal birds. With much persistence, we eventually conjured up an Eastern Screech-Owl, heard an American Woodcock “peenting”, heard squawks from Virginia Rail, and, as dawn approached, heard a Chuck-will’s-widow proclaiming it’s name. All in all it was a relatively successful night, considering less than ideal conditions.

Cape May Warbler at Cape May Point, seen before the WSB but not on the big day.
As dawn broke, we stood on a bluff above Pond Creek Marsh, taking in many new species, with key additions including Clapper Rail, Common Nighthawk, Northern Flicker, and Seaside Sparrow. We quickly moved on to Cape May Point, where we scoured our favorite migrants spots. As predicted, the southeast winds overnight brought us very few new migrants but were perfect for ushering yesterday’s lingering migrants on their way northward. Our warbler list was lean. But our spirits rose abruptly when we got to our morning sea watching spot and were met by our awesome support staff, Lu Ann Daniels and Ron Rollet. Protein bars, ginger-cream scones, and cafĂ© au lait awaited us on the Coral Avenue dune crossing, and we were re-energized! With sharpened eyes, the new birds came quickly: Brant, Black and Surf scoters, Common and Red-throated loons, Northern Gannet, Purple Sandpiper, Parasitic Jaeger, Royal Tern, and Black Skimmer. Sea watching was very good to us! Nearby Cape May Point State Park also yielded the long-staying Iceland Gull, as well as a noisy Northern Bobwhite.

More digging for migrants around Cape May Point and Beach Plum Farm yielded only a handful of new birds. By noon, our tired legs were ready for more fuel, so we stopped at Louise and Michael’s house for lunch and sky watching. Once again, Ron and Lu took care of us with an amazing spread including turkey wraps, drinks, and other yummy snacks to keep us going for the rest of the day. With Northern Harrier, Cooper’s Hawk, and Downy Woodpecker added to our list, we headed back out, but this time with our good luck charm, Kashi Davis, running along with us to keep our spirits high! [Kashi would remain with us for a couple of hours, and Lu also joined us at a few locations during the afternoon.] A quick jaunt out to the Sunset Beach to look for a reported Great Cormorant turned out to be a poor use of time, but our first visit to the Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge (aka, “The Meadows”) more than made up for it! In short order, we found Green-winged Teal, and a long list of shorebirds including Stilt and White-rumped sandpipers, and Red-necked Phalarope! We also ran into a number of other teams, and paused for some brief socializing.

With our list starting to fill out nicely, we headed back into the woods to continue searching for songbird migrants. The Beanery produced its resident Prothonotary Warbler, and also a surprise Barred Owl hooting in the middle of the afternoon (after being silent during our nighttime visits). Migrants, however, were not in evidence. Ditto at other little woodlots we checked in West Cape May and along Bayshore Road. As we sat at the intersection of Bayshore and New England roads, poised to make a late afternoon check of Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area, the utter lack of songbird migrants vs. good activity near the water made it an easy decision: we would skip Higbee and head back to the Meadows for a less rushed and hopefully more productive finish to the day. We’ll never know what we missed at Higbee, but the Meadows had more bounty to share with us. As we walked into the meadows, a Black-billed Cuckoo shot across the path in front of us. Then a Merlin zipped by. Then a Bank Swallow magically appeared among the local swallows hunting over the main pool (perhaps brought in by a late afternoon switch to westerly winds). Then a gull flock yielded Ring-billed and Lesser Black-backed. And then we finally found that Wilson’s Snipe that other teams had been seeing along the East Path. It was a strong finish to a day when migrants were very tough to come by. Although we didn’t win any awards, we were all pleased with our result of 127 species, and even more pleased with how much money we raised from all our generous supporters. Thank you all!

For those who also pledged for the butterfly species that we tallied, that number was 9, with these species seen: Tiger Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail, Cabbage White, Orange Sulphur, Spring Azure, Pearl Crescent, Common Buckeye, American Lady, and Silver-spotted Skipper. 

It's not too late to make your contribution!  Visit the Monarchists' page on the World Series of Birding,, if you'd like to chip in.  All contributions go to support the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project, which conducts research and educational outreach programs relating to the migration of monarchs through Cape May.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

We're hiring for the fall

Applications are now being accepted for our two seasonal Field Naturalist Intern positions, work that runs from late August into early November.  The full job description is below.  Further down we've included a few photos from recent years to provide a glimpse of the work involved.

Position: Field Naturalist Intern, Monarch Monitoring Project
Departments: Research and Education
Location: Cape May, New Jersey
Reports to: CMBO Program Director and MMP Director
Job Classification: Fulltime Seasonal

Job Description: FIELD NATURALIST INTERN for ongoing MONARCH MONITORING PROJECT at New Jersey Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory, Cape May, New Jersey August 24 to November 7. Cape May is renowned as one of the world's great hot spots for migration. NJA fosters the application of sound scientific principles and practices to address conservation issues related to vertebrate and invertebrate fauna, and the natural habitats with which they are associated. 

·         Daily road censuses of migrating Monarchs
·         Monarch tagging
·         Data entry
·         Educating the public about the project and Monarch biology
·         Maintain display of monarch caterpillars and chrysalides

      Experience interacting with the public and excellent interpersonal skills
      Enthusiastic and motivated self-starter who is also a strong team player
      Familiarity with insect ecology a plus, but not required
      Willingness to work irregular hours
      Careful data collecting and entry skills
      Must have own vehicle and a valid, clean driver’s license
      Must be able to lift and carry 25 lbs as needed

Start Date: August 24, 2017                                  Ending Date: November 7, 2017

Salary: $1000/month; housing and reimbursement for gas provided

Application Deadline: June 20, 2017

Please send cover letter of interest, resume, and three references as a single pdf document (including email and phone contact info) to:  New Jersey Audubon (NJ Audubon) is a privately supported, not-for profit, statewide membership organization. Founded in 1897, and one of the oldest independent Audubon societies, NJ Audubon is not connected with the National Audubon Society. NJ Audubon is an equal opportunity employer (EOE).

Monarch tagging
Tagged monarch

Monarch tagging demo at Cape May Pt. State Park
Teaching children about monarch migration
Young ones are intrigued by close-up views of monarchs

Display of caterpillars and chrysalides at the Northwood Center

Thursday, May 11, 2017

World Series of Birding Results

The Monarchists Team found 126 species of birds plus 8 species of butterflies during the World Series of Birding competition on May 6th.  This fundraising event serves as the primary source of funding for the Monarch Monitoring Project.  It's not too late to make your contribution!  See details here:

Thanks to all who have made contributions in support of our efforts!

The Monarchists and supporters around the midpoint of the World Series of Birding.