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.

Monday, November 12, 2018

2018 Season Wrap Up

The 2018 monarch field season officially came to an end on November 7th. Traditionally, the censusing ends on October 31st, but because of some late pushes of monarchs last season we extended the censusing another week. We decided to extend the season again this year with the hopes of continuing in future years, as peak migration days have been getting later and later each year.
Now that all of the census data is in, we know that this season has been a bit below average. The average monarchs seen per hour was 47.1 in 2018, compared to the historical average of 69.9. Here are some stats from the field:
Monarchs roosting the evening of October 14h.
Spot the tagged monarch!
  • The peak migration day was October 3rd, where Lindsey counted 271 monarchs on the three censuses that day (271 monarchs per hour)!
  • The peak migration week averaged 137.41 monarchs per hour and was September 29th through October 5th. 
  • We reared 75 monarchs at our live caterpillar display at the Northwood Center this season.
  • The best roosts spotted were October 13th and 14th, with the biggest clusters being over 50 monarchs. 
  • The total monarchs tagged by everyone in the project was over 4,300!

Despite some below average monarch numbers, the season was still quite a success. We reached thousands of people with the message of monarch conservation through both State Park demos and informal meetings with passersby in the street while tagging monarchs. Peak days brought monarch-covered goldenrod on sunny afternoons, and roosts in the pitch pines in the evenings. In addition to monarchs, there were amazing migration days of American Kestrels, Common Buckeyes, various dragonflies, Saw-Whet Owls, and many other species. 

Below are some images from the 2018 field season:

A chrysalis found in our volunteer Pecki's yard,
she was sure to keep it safe until it emerged and
took off!

Small cluster of monarchs at the State Park warming
up to start their day

A female laying eggs on Common Milkweed
early on in the season
Common Buckeye on goldenrod, a very common migrant this season

We want to thank all of our volunteers, everyone involved with the project, all of those who attended our tagging demos and other events, the folks we met while out in the field who inquired about our work, the readers of the blog, as well as anyone and everyone who has a passion for helping conserve the wondrous little migrant that is the monarch butterfly.

It has been a wonderful fall season here in Cape May, and we are looking forward to hearing the reports from Mexico this winter with hopes of Cape May recoveries!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Surprising increase in monarchs

We had just about given hope of seeing many more monarchs in Cape May Point this year, since we have seen very low numbers over the last week.  Gentle northwest winds on Tuesday brought a modest increase in monarch numbers, to our surprise, and it seemed like numbers were increasing throughout the day.

While the seaside goldenrod is still blooming along the upper beach, the monarchs were not found there.  Maybe it was the wind -- the beach is always the breeziest spot -- or maybe the goldenrod isn't offering much nectar.  Thankfully there are many active gardens around Cape May Point that are still filled with nectar-rich flowers, and that's where the monarchs were found.  As a team we tagged nearly 100 monarchs today.

We don't know what's going to happen over the next few days, but the weather is supposed to stay fairly mild, so one more late surge of migrating monarchs may be possible.

We were also surprised today by good numbers of other butterflies.  We saw a sudden upsurge of Red Admirals, including the one shown above, and there were several other species found in the gardens around Cape May Point.  The fresh Question Mark, shown below, was certainly one of the most beautiful.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Fall Festival Wrap Up

This past weekend, October 19th - 21st, the Cape May Bird Observatory hosted the annual New Jersey Audubon Fall Festival, a celebration of all things migration. Our team had the pleasure of setting up a display at the Cape May Convention Hall, where we were fortunate to meet hundreds of visitors and share the magic of the monarchs.

Two chrysalises emerged during the festival weekend! As usual, this happened when no one was watching.

If you missed our tagging demonstrations and are still looking to see the process in action, this upcoming week (10/22 - 10/25) will be our final week of Triangle Park drop in days. Come to Triangle Park at 1:00 PM Monday through Thursday to send off the final waves of monarchs down to Mexico.  Triangle Park is located at the junction of Lighthouse and Coral Avenues in Cape May Point.

To those of you we met at the festival, thank you for stopping by. We were very pleased to sell out of milkweed seeds and hear about all of the work being done to promote monarch conservation, from gardeners with milkweed patches and nectar sources, to educators who bring caterpillars into their classrooms everyday. Our project relies on folks like you who are truly making a positive impact on the monarchs. We hope to see you at the festival next year!

[Post by Naturalist Lindsey Cathcart]

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Monarch numbers increased on Sunday

We were growing impatient in Cape May, as we heard reports of good numbers on monarchs in Ocean City and Stone Harbor over the last few days, two spots north of us in Cape May County.  Numbers had remained fairly modest here in Cape May Point.  On Sunday they finally started to arrive, and we enjoyed a nice influx of monarchs.

Most of the monarch activity was on the seaside goldenrod, which is now at peak bloom.  Monarchs and goldenrods are easy to see right now along the trails near the dunes at Cape May Point State Park, along the promenade in Cape May City, next to many of the dune crossings at Cape May Point, and in a variety of other locations here at New Jersey's southern tip.

We wondered if monarchs might gather into roosting groups this evening.  When the weather is chilly at night this often happens, and at times in the past we have seen aggregations of many hundreds, even thousands infrequently.  The weather didn't cool much as sunset approached, and many monarchs looked like they would settle in for the night right in the goldenrod patches, but some did fly up into conifer trees near the beach, with a little more than 200 counted shortly before sunset along the trail to the beach across from St. Peter's Church, at the Intersection of Harvard, Ocean, and Lake.  We think that there are more monarchs on their way to Cape May Point over the next day or two, but we can't be sure, and we don't know how long those that arrived on Sunday might stick around.  We'll just have to head out again tomorrow and see what we find.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Looking good for Saturday

A big cold front passed through Cape May Thursday night into Friday morning, bringing strong northwest winds onto the Cape.  Northwest winds trigger all sorts of migration, and more than 5,000 American Kestrels (shown here) were counted from the Cape May hawkwatch on Friday.  Northwest winds are the best for monarch migration, but we saw very few here on Friday -- the winds were just too strong.  Lighter northwest winds are predicted for Saturday, and we have received reports of many monarchs occurring on Friday at Stone Harbor, just 10 miles to the north of us, so there are many reasons to expect a lot of monarchs in Cape May on Saturday.  Come see us if you can -- we'll offer our regular monarch talk and tagging demo at 2 pm in Cape May Point State Park, under the East Picnic Shelter (adjacent to the big hawkwatch platform, across the parking lot from the lighthouse).

Newly tagged monarch takes off from a visitor's hand
at Friday Monarch Tagging Demo.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Uncertainly lies ahead

Seaside Goldenrod as seen from the St. Peter's dune walkway, Cape May Point.

Monarch numbers have been modest around Cape May Point this week.  Witness the Seaside Goldenrod along the dunes, as seen above, a favorite nectar source for migrating monarchs.  Only a few monarch have been seen enjoying these nectar-rich flowers.

The current weather forecast shows the edge of Hurricane Michael swinging through Cape May in the near future.  Tropical storms are notoriously hard to predict, but it seems certain that we'll get some effect from this system.  Rain seems almost certain, but if the storms trends south it could just be ¼ or ½ inch, while if it veers a bit further north we could get 4 inches or more.  Some high winds also seem likely, with stronger winds likely to occur if the storm takes the more northerly track.  Most impacts of the storm look like they'll be here between Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.

A strong cold front is predicted to usher the storm out to see, bringing much cooler temperatures and strong northwest winds for the weekend.  Northwest winds are generally the best for monarch migration into Cape May, but the butterflies don't do well in especially strong winds nor in heavy rain.  So we are more confused than ever about the prospects for monarch migration over the weekend.  We've just got to wait and see.

One thing is certain -- this Friday through Sunday, Oct. 12 -14, we'll have our last formal tagging demos at Cape May Point State Park, each starting at 2 pm at the park's East Shelter.  Last Saturday we hosted about 140 people at this program, we're hoping that even more of you will come to see us this weekend!  On the following weekend, Oct. 19 - 21, we'll be participating in the NJ Audubon Fall Festival, with a table at the Cape May Convention Hall and tagging demos at noon on Saturday and Sunday (and perhaps impromptu demos at other times).  You can also meet one of our team members each Monday through Thursday, through Oct. 27, at 1 pm at Cape May Point's Triangle Park (at the junction of Lighthouse and Coral Aves.) for a casual chat about monarch biology and conservation.

Common Buckeyes are still abundant around Cape May Point.
At least these lovely butterflies are enjoying the goldenrod!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Cape May Monarch Festival today!

The Nature Center of Cape May hosts the annual Monarch Festival today, Sunday Oct. 7.  Our team will be there for tagging demos and an illustrated talk on monarch biology and conservation.  We hope to see you there!  Details here: