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, November 10, 2017

End of season

It's about 11 pm on the evening of Nov. 10, and our prolonged monarch migration season is certainly ending tonight, as the temperature in Cape May has reached 29 and the predicted low is 25.  We'll hope that many of the monarchs that were still lingering at the Point yesterday will have moved on, heading south to Mexico.

It had been a good monarch migration season through late October, when the migration generally finishes up.  Much to our surprise, many monarchs arrived in Cape May during the last few days of October, with the roost shown above, along the St. Peter's dune crossover, numbering over a thousand monarchs on the night of October 31.

Many monarchs crossed Delaware Bay on Nov. 1, but we continued to see a few monarchs around Cape May Point right up to the 9th, when we managed to tag over 40.  Will monarchs lingering this late make it to Mexico?  We really don't know, so that's why we continue to tag.  If one of these late monarchs makes it to Mexico and the tag is found, we will then be able to answer that question.

Our team is assembling the season's census and tagging data, and in a few weeks we will offer a retrospective on the season.  But before that, we want to say thanks to all of our volunteers, thanks to our seasonal naturalists Stephanie Augustine and Rebecca Zerlin, thanks to the 2000+ visitors who attended our programs this fall (and the countless others we met with informally), thanks to all who have made contributions to support our work, and thanks to all who have made some effort to support and protect monarchs and their habitat, and to those who have educated others about the biology of these remarkable little insects.

One of the last monarchs tagged at Cape May Point in 2017.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Lots of monarchs

A very big movement of monarchs is being reported from Cape May Point this afternoon, more details after further investigation.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Monarchs in the rain

Monarchs were again seen in good numbers around Cape May Point on Saturday, roosting again at the same areas where they were seen on Friday night.  Rain arrived on Sunday morning before the monarchs had left the roost, and we had a lot of rain all day long, so the monarchs never left the roosts.  Every once in a while we saw one or two flying around, as if to test the air, only to settle back in.

We took these photos in the late afternoon.  Water was dripping off some of the monarchs, and most were completely motionless.  It's amazing that these butterflies are well adapted to withstand a rainy day, with raindrops beading up at the tip of the wing before dropping off.

Monday's forecast calls for rain ending around sunrise, followed by strong west winds at 20 to 25 mph, with high temperature in the mid-50s.  We doubt that the monarchs will head out across Delaware Bay in those winds, so we expect them to leave the roost once they begin to dry out and then search for nectar.

If you're coming to Cape May in search of monarchs on Monday, we suggest visiting areas where some flowers are still in bloom, especially areas that are out of the strongest winds.  There may be monarchs in sheltered pockets of seaside goldenrod near the beach, but we're guessing the more monarchs will be in the flower gardens scattered around Cape May Point.

Tuesday's forecast calls for northwest winds at 10 to 15 miles an hour, and if that forecast holds, we could watch our monarchs departing for Delaware.

We don't know if more monarchs are on their way to Cape May; we have seen recent reports of monarchs to our north, so there may still be some to arrive.  Last year we had a good numbers passing through on November 4, and perhaps that will be repeated this year.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Saturday looks promising

Good numbers of monarchs were seen around Cape May Point today, with a roost of about 400 gathering near the intersection of Harvard and Lehigh Avenues and smaller roosts nearby (and perhaps larger roosts elsewhere that we didn't find).  Saturday's weather forecasts suggests that many of these monarchs may stay at the Point and others may continue to arrive from the north.  Storms are due to arrive on Sunday however, which makes this look like a poor day for monarch viewing.  We really can't guess whether the days following the storms will bring more monarchs or not; the migration season will surely be ending soon.

Monarch joining the roost at Harvard & Lehigh
Seaside goldenrod has been the preferred nectar source for monarchs at Cape May Point for most of of October, but many of the goldenrods are past bloom now.  Monarchs are visiting the ones that remain in bloom, but many are returning to private gardens, where annual flowers are now providing much of the nectar needed by the butterflies.

Monarch at one of the few seaside goldenrods that are still in bloom.
Monarch nectarine on marigold
Most of the monarch action remains in the areas of Cape May Point closest to the beach and the dunes, though observers did note many monarchs moving south along the Delaware Bay shore.  Many monarchs started to gather in roosts quite early in the day, more than four hours before sunset, even though the day was rather warm.  Perhaps as we get later into the year the urge to gather into communal roosts is growing stronger.

Monarchs gathering atop an eastern red cedar at mid-afternoon.
Since monarchs are still around, our field naturalists are offering bonus tagging demos this weekend.  Join Rebecca and Stephanie at 12 noon on Saturday or Sunday at the East Shelter in Cape May Point State Park for a short talk on monarch biology and conservation, followed by a demonstration of the tagging that's a big part of our project.  We hope to see many of you at one of this weekend's programs.

Monarch resting on poison ivy leaf.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Monarchs keep coming

Less than a week of October remains in 2017, but the weather is just now turning chilly with winds from the north and northwest.  These are winds that bring migrant birds and monarch butterflies into Cape May, but it's getting late into the monarch migration season.  We didn't know what to expect when storms passed through on Tuesday and the temperature started dropping.  Maybe we'd see another surge of monarch migration, or maybe the changing weather would signal the end of the 2017 migration.

Today's observations tell us that the migration certainly isn't over, but we don't know how many more monarchs are coming nor for how much longer they'll keep coming.  Last year the migration continued through the first week of November.

There were reasonable numbers of monarchs around Cape May Point today, and a small roost was found at Cape May Point State Park, but many more monarchs were seen a bit to our north at Stone Harbor Point.  Maybe they'll flood into Cape May Point tomorrow, or maybe they'll just fly over us and head straight to Delaware.  Maybe many more will arrive from the north.  I wish we could better predict what was going to happen over the next few days, but since we can't, we'll just head out  into the field each day to keep counting and checking.

Monarch roost at Stone Harbor Point, 10/25/17

Our scheduled tagging demos have ended, but since monarchs are still around, we're happy to announce new, bonus monarch tagging demos at 12:00 noon this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, at Cape May Point's East Shelter, the covered picnic pavilion adjacent to the hawk watch platform.  There's no charge for the program, though donations to the NJ Audubon Cape May Bird Observatory Monarch Monitoring Project are happily accepted.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Quick update on Monday morning

Our team has been super busy with the NJ Audubon Cape May Bird Observatory Fall Festival, but the very good late season flight of monarchs has continued.  We are still seeing monarchs along the dunes and in the gardens at Cape May Point, and we think that will continue today.  We have watched many monarchs cross over to Delaware, but others continue to arrive from the north.  Observers in other parts of New Jersey and in New York are still reporting many monarchs, so there are more to come.

Tuesday's weather forecast calls for wind and rain, not good for monarchs, but followed by a cold front with northwest winds, ideal conditions for monarch migration.  Wednesday and Thursday could be good days for monarch migration at Cape May Point -- if the ones to our north make it through the storms.  Our fingers are crossed.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Monarchs coming and going

Cape May basked under warm sunshine today, with gentle winds blowing from the northwest.  Ideal conditions for monarchs to migrate.  While many were seen flying out from the Point and heading to Delaware, it seems that an equal number arrived.  Monarchs were once again plentiful and easy to find.  The warm weather seems to have kept them from forming any large communal roosts, which many visitors have been hoping to see, but at any time of day there are many monarchs to be seen -- and not just in Cape May Point, all around Cape May City as well.

We expect more monarchs to continue along on their southbound journeys tomorrow, but we are also still receiving reports of monarchs to our north.  Will tomorrow bring more into Cape May Point, or will it be more of a departure day?  It's hard to guess, but we are pretty sure that the monarch viewing will be good for at least one more day.