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, August 5, 2020

Plans for 2020 Monarch Migration Season

Sorry we haven't published anything in a long time, it's taken us a while to figure out how we will run our project this year in the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic.  The decisions have now been made, so here is a summary of what to expect.

Our research work will continue with very little change from past years.  The road census will be conducted three times a day from Sept. 1 through Oct. 15, and then twice per day from Oct. 16 to 31.  The road census provides our long-term data set on the number of monarchs passing through Cape May each autumn, and this will be the 29th consecutive autumn for this long-term data gathering project.

We will hire at least one, and possibly two Field Naturalist Interns to work on the project for the months of September and October.  Our Naturalists will work with Field Coordinator Louise Zemaitis and Project Director Mark Garland to conduct the road censuses, perform habitat management, tag monarchs, and share information about monarchs to visitors during informal contacts and formal Cape May Bird Observatory programs.

Experienced volunteers will also help with tagging and informal education.  We will not be able to offer any training for new volunteers, alas, as we adhere to COVID-19 restrictions.

For most of the field season we will offer at least one formal program per week, with preregistration required.  Per COVID-19 restrictions, face coverings will be required and the group size will be kept very small, with all participants maintaining recommended social distance throughout.  We'll share the schedule and registration procedures once that has been finalized.

We usually hire our seasonal staff in early July, but due to all of the uncertainties of this year the jobs have just been announced.  We will be reviewing resumes and conducting interviews over the next few weeks.  The job description and application procedures may be viewed here:  The Field Naturalist Intern position is designed to provide relevant experience for biologists and/or educators just starting out in their careers, but there are not specific age requirements.

The year 2020 has been dramatically different for everyone, all around the world, and the Monarch Monitoring Project will be different as well.  But we will be able to conduct our research and offer a small amount of public programming, and we'll report back regularly on the status of the migration.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Modest Monarch Numbers Continue

We grew used to monarch numbers dropping off quickly during the second half of October, but the pattern seems to be changing.  For the fourth year in a row we are seeing steady numbers of monarchs continuing late into the month.  Cape May Point is engulfed in a cloud today (Wednesday), with a misty drizzle coming and going, so the monarchs are not very active, and more rain is in the forecast, so we don't know if there will still be monarchs around after the rain.  But until there's a hard freeze in the areas to our immediate north, our guess is that modest numbers of monarchs will continue to be seen.

Seaside goldenrod, a favorite late season nectar source for monarchs, is fading now, with about 90% past bloom.  Monarchs are now being seen most often in gardens that still have flowers in bloom.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Monday morning update

We are seeing the biggest numbers of monarchs of the season thus far at Cape May Point this morning, with good numbers both along the dunes, feeding on seaside goldenrod, and also in various private gardens.  Winds are ideal for monarch movement, but we don't know if there will be more monarchs arriving or departing this afternoon, or perhaps equal numbers of both.  We don't know how it will be in a few hours, but right now there's a pretty good monarch show happening.  Visit any of the dune crossovers in the community of Cape May Point to watch them, but remember, never leave the formal pathways and walk into the dunes, it's not just harmful to the environment, it's actually illegal.

Monarchs on Vitex ("Chaste Tree") in private garden

Monarch on seaside goldenrod in Cape May Point

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Update for weekend of Oct. 12 - 13

Monarch numbers have been gradually increasing over the last few days.  If you've never seen more than a few monarchs in one place, you'll be delighted with what can be seen in Cape May right now.  Those who have been here when monarchs seem to be everywhere, however, will realize that these are just moderate numbers by Cape May standards.  As is typically the case in October, most are found along the dunes in Cape May Point and next to the Promenade in Cape May City, feeding on the flowers of seaside goldenrod.  If you come to see or photograph monarchs at these locations, it's crucial to stay on the paths and never enter the dunes.

Female monarch on seaside goldenrod

We are receiving reports of big numbers of monarchs at Stone Harbor Point.  Our volunteers up there, coordinated by Sue Slotterback of the Wetlands Institute, use monarch tags that are colored green, so that we can quickly recognize them if they come to Cape May Point.  It's surprising how seldom we see the Stone Harbor monarchs, suggesting that once they leave that spot they just fly right over Cape May on their way south.  Will we see a lot more monarchs arriving into Cape May Point today?  There's no way to know, but we'll be out there watching.

Our team is very busy with our program schedule.  Our last formal tagging demos of the year at Cape May Point will be held this Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 pm.  We hosted over 100 people at each of our demos last Friday and Saturday.  These free programs are held at the East Picnic Shelter in Cape May Point State Park.  Next Friday through Sunday, Oct. 18 - 20, we will have our tagging demos at 12:00 noon at the Cape May Convention Center as part of the NJ Audubon Cape May Fall Festival.  Learn more about this fabulous event here:  Our informal "drop-in" programs at Triangle Park, held Mondays through Thursdays, will continue through October 24.  And, of course, the big Monarch Migration Festival will be held at the Nature Center of Cape May on Sunday, Oct. 13, details here:  We're hoping that there will be good numbers of monarchs at each of these events.

Big turnout for one of our tagging demos.

We also work with school groups; naturalists Anya Held and
Brendan Schaffer are shown here teaching a class.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Thursday update 10/10/19

It's been a very slow week for monarchs.  A storm developed out in the Atlantic, and while it didn't bring much rain to Cape May, we've had several days with strong winds out of the east and northeast. We don't expect to see many monarchs under those conditions, and indeed it was tough to find any monarchs.

Seaside goldenrod is blooming; where are the monarchs?

We had a lot of east winds in 2018, and while many areas saw excellent numbers of southbound monarchs, the Cape May totals were below our long term average.  This might be happening again in 2019, but there's still a chance that we will see big numbers during October's last three weeks.

Thursday's forecast is for north winds from 10 to 20 miles an hour, which should certainly bring us at least a modest increase in monarch numbers.  The forecast for the following few days is very favorable for the migration of monarchs - north winds on Friday, northwest on Saturday, and north-northwest on Sunday.  Will these winds bring a lot of monarchs or just a few?  We don't know, but our fingers are crossed!

Conditions look great for NJ Audubon's third annual Monarch Festival, which will be held from 10 am to 4 pm on Sunday, October 13.  Details here:

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Saturday update 10/5/19

The temperature dropped into the upper 40s Friday night, yet many of the monarchs that moved into Cape May Point yesterday were still up early on Saturday, leaving their roosts before 8:00. Moderate NE winds were ideal for crossing Delaware Bay, and many of them headed out over the water to continue their migrations. There's a chance that more will arrive on Saturday afternoon, but as of late morning, monarch numbers had declined dramatically from Friday's peak. We are still seeing reports of many monarchs to our north, so we know there's a lot of the migration yet to come.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Friday afternoon - numbers increasing

Monarch numbers have increased significantly at Cape May Point this afternoon -- big numbers were seen flying down the beach between about 1:00 and 4:00 this afternoon.  It did not seem that many were leaving the Point and heading to Delaware, so we think some sizable overnight roosts may be forming.  Our team is currently searching around the Point to see if we can find where the monarchs are settling in for the night.  Monarch numbers should be high again tomorrow morning, but northeast winds are predicted, which the monarchs might use to leave Cape May and fly over the Bay to Delaware.  We'll be out there watching!