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.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Welcome 2018 Field Naturalist Interns

The 2018 field season for the Monarch Monitoring Project is just under a month away.  We are busy getting supplies ready and gearing up for the new season.  Our two Field Naturalist Interns have been hired and we are pleased to introduce Lindsey Cathcart and Sarah Crosby to you, using their own words.

Lindsey Cathcart: "I am a recent graduate of the University of Delaware with a degree in Insect Ecology and Conservation.  In my undergraduate career I worked on a study examining the pollination ecology of various native flowering plants.  After conducting research at Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, DE, I completed a senior thesis specifically investigating the quality of native Hydrangeas as food sources for pollinators.  Most recently, I have worked as an entomology intern at Stroud Water Research Center in Avondale PA, identifying freshwater benthic macroinvertebrates for their usage in assessing water quality.  I am very excited to join the Cape May team with New Jersey Audubon this fall as an intern on the Monarch Monitoring Project and contribute to such a significant area of research.  I hope to attend graduate school in the future and am looking forward to the opportunity to grow as a scientist and continue to pursue my passion for entomology."

Sarah Crosby: "I graduated from Rutgers University in 2018 with a degree in Philosophy and Environmental Studies.  I grew up in Ringwood, NJ hiking, swimming and camping, developing my love for the natural world.  While in middle school, I began volunteering at the former (NJ Audubon) Weis Ecology Center as a Jr. Counselor.  When the New Weis Center reopened, I returned as a field trip educator and head camp counselor.  My love of nature really began to blossom after a dendrology course in college, where I began to understand the entire ecology of an area and the importance of biodiversity.  Since then, I have been interested in native plant conservation and restoration ecology.  I look forward to working with the Monarch Monitoring Project to help make an impact on these local endangered pollinators, while getting to help educate the community about this important mission!"

We are eager to welcome Lindsey and Sarah to Cape May, and hope that all friends and supporters of the Monarch Monitoring Project will join us to help them both feel welcome and at home in Cape May this fall.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Farewell to Dr. Lincoln Brower

We are full of sadness and sorrow here in Cape May with news of the passing of Dr. Lincoln Brower, who served as Scientific Advisor to the Monarch Monitoring Project from the very start.  Our project began in 1990, when Dick Walton and Dr. Brower began to develop protocols for the research work that continues today, certainly one of the longest continuous quantitative studies of a migratory insect that has ever been conducted.  In the fall of 2000 Dr. Brower came to Cape May, spending time in the field with our team and giving presentations on monarch biology and conservation.  He remained keenly enthusiastic about our work throughout the years.

Monarch enthusiasts all around the world share our sorrow, for Dr. Brower's impacts were indeed global.  We know of no other individual who has had as much impact on our understanding of the biology of monarch butterflies, nor of any individual who has done as much for conservation of monarchs and their habitat.

Dr. Brower finished his career working at Sweet Briar College, in Virginia, and from that small college comes this wonderful tribute and remembrance:

Monarchs at Cerro Pelón, Mexico

Our field season in 2018 will be dedicated to the memory of Dr. Brower; indeed, our work would have never begun without his wisdom, counsel, and guidance.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Ten more Cape May monarchs recovered in Mexico

Exciting news arrived this week, as the folks from Monarch Watch (you can see their website here) published details about the monarch tags recovered in Mexico this year.  Ten that were tagged in Cape May County by staff and volunteers of the Monarch Monitoring Project were among the hundreds of tags recovered.  The earliest was tagged on Sept. 8, the latest on Oct. 19, and six of the ten were tagged during the last 10 days of September.  Here are the specific data:

XGT 908, tagged in Cape May Point on 9/8/17
XGS 152, tagged in Cape May Point on 9/11/17
XGT 063, tagged in Cape May Point on 9/21/17
XGY 204, tagged in Cape May Point on 9/22/17
XGY 220, tagged in Cape May Point on 9/23/17
XGS 313, tagged in Cape May Point on 9/23/17
XGR 770, tagged in Stone Harbor on 9/28/17
XGU 904, tagged in Cape May City on 9/30/17
XGU 134, tagged in Cape May Point on 10/10/2017
XGS 711, tagged in Cape May Point on 10/19/17

Like most monarch researchers east of the Rocky Mountains, we use tags issued by the Monarch Watch program, which operates out of the University of Kansas.  Many readers of this blog are familiar with the tagging and have seen our tagging demonstrations in Cape May Point each autumn, but we'll supply a bit of information for those who might not know.  The tags (shown above) are small, adhesive disks that we apply to the central area of the underside of a monarch hindwing.  The process is quick, painless, and doesn't change the flight of the butterfly.  The last line on the tag is a unique code that is never repeated -- in recent years the codes consist of three letters followed by three numbers, XGU 774 in the example above.  The other lines list an e-mail address (TAG@KU.EDU), the project name "Monarch Watch" in red, and a toll-free phone number (1-888-TAGGING).  If you ever see a monarch bearing a tag, try to read the code on that last line (enlarged digital photos can often reveal the tag code) and report the tag number, location, date and time to Monarch Watch either with a phone call or an e-mail message.

More than 5,000 monarchs were tagged in Cape May County by the Monarch Monitoring Project team last fall, so 10 of these butterflies found in Mexico might not seem like very many.  But take a look at the photo at left, from late February at the Cerro Pelón Monarch Sanctuary in Mexico.  It's impossible to pick out a tagged monarch from these massive aggregations.  Most of the tag recoveries from Mexico are from monarchs that perish during the winter months.  Even in good years it's estimated that perhaps as many as 10% of the monarchs don't make it through the prolonged period of winter dormancy.  The guides who lead tourists at the Mexican Sanctuaries search for monarch wings bearing tags on the forest floor, and are given a small monetary reward for each tag that they find.  We believe that the vast majority of tagged monarchs that winter in Mexico are never noticed, and that each recovered tag represents many more that made the trek.

Our 2018 field season will begin during the last week of August, when we will be training our interns.  Censuses and tagging begin on September 1, and continue through at least October 31.  We are accepting applications for our two intern positions, send an e-mail message to for the job description and application procedures.

2017 Interns Rebecca Zerlin and Stephanie Augustine
educate members of the public at a tagging demonstration.

We are in the midst of our annual fundraising effort, hoping to achieve our goals so that we can purchase tags, print brochures, and cover the salaries and expenses of our two interns.  The "CMBO Monarchists" team competing in the World Series of Birding hopes to raise the $12,000 needed for our project budget.  We're a little more than halfway to our goal.  If you'd like to support our work, please see the details here.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Help Monarchs in Cape May and in Mexico

Today we are asking you to consider two fundraising efforts for projects that help monarch butterflies.  Here in Cape May, NJ, a team called the "CMBO Monarchists" is preparing to compete in the World Series of Birding.  Every team in this friendly bird-finding competition raises funds for a conservation cause, and the CMBO Monarchists raise money for the Monarch Monitoring Project.  This event has become the project's major source of funds, accounting for more than half of the MMP's modest annual budget.  You can make contributions online here:

The CMBO Monarchists travel only by foot and bicycle during
the World Series of Birding.  Here the team listens for migrating
birds during the pre-dawn hours.

Down in Mexico, a group is raising money to hire an arborist to help protect the forest at Cerro Pelón, one of the few places in the mountains of Mexico where our monarch butterflies spend the winter.  Here's where you can make a contribution to this important project:

Monarch butterflies in the forest at Cerro Pelón, Mexico

Friday, March 23, 2018

Visiting the Mexican Monarch Sanctuaries

Whenever we talk about monarch butterfly conservation, we suggest that folks visit Mexico to see the areas where monarchs gather in huge numbers to wait out the northern winter.  This year, in cooperation with our parent organization, New Jersey Audubon's Cape May Bird Observatory, we led a small group tour to Mexico, visiting three of the sanctuaries where monarchs are found from late October through mid-March.

Monarchs at the El Rosario Monarch Sanctuary

We enjoyed excellent weather and were completely overwhelmed by the spectacles, millions of monarchs draping the trees and shrubs, drinking from puddles and from wet grass, and at time filling the sky with a blizzard of orange and black.  You can read a full report from the trip on the NJ Audubon Eco-Travel web page here:, or see a more extensive photo gallery here:

Cerro Pelón Monarch Sanctuary
I think everyone was thrilled with the experience.  How did our visit support conservation?  It's the basic premise of ecotourism.  When communities surrounding the monarch sanctuaries gain economic benefit from the spending of tourists coming to see the monarchs, they're likely to work for the preservation of the forest habitat that the monarchs require.  We spent money at hotels, restaurants, gift shops, and with local guides at each of the sanctuaries, plus the people who tend the horses that many of us rode to reach the high mountain areas where the monarchs occur.

It's a win-win.  We are amazed to see millions of monarchs in such a small area, knowing that every one started its life in the US and Canada and made an epic migratory journey.  The local people are equally delighted, and their lives are enriched by both the presence of the butterflies and the money spent by visiting ecotourists.  We hope to offer more visits to the Mexican monarch sanctuaries in the coming years.

Many businesses sport monarch decorations

Images of monarchs are seen everywhere in this region

Butterfly decorations in the sidewalk in the town of Angangueo

The monarch sanctuaries bring many economic benefits to the region
Young Mexicans delight in the butterflies, just as visitors do.

Monarchs clustered at Cerro Pelón

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.