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, November 2, 2016

November Surprise!

Our field season runs from Sept 1 through Oct. 31, and by the end of that period the monarch migration is usually over.  Monarchs begin to arrive on the winter grounds around the end of October, and that's the case this year (see here).  In early November we're usually compiling the data, cleaning out the gardens, and putting away the nets and other project equipment.

This year, however, November 2 brought unseasonably warm weather into Cape May.  The temperature approached 70 degrees, winds were gentle and the sun shined brightly.  And monarchs were seen all around Cape May Point.

Monarch in Cape May Point's Triangle Park.
Field Naturalist Intern Lindsey Brendel discovered the surprising influx at mid-morning, and by midday MMP Director Mark Garland joined her in the field.  Mark tagged 29, and Lindsey worked most of the day and tagged 126.  It's generally thought that monarchs seen in Cape May this late in the season won't make it to Mexico, but we don't really know.  As long as they stay ahead of freezing weather they've got a chance.  We'll learn a lot if one (or more) of these monarchs is found in Mexico or somewhere along the migratory route.

Monarch tagged today in Bill Schuhl's garden.
Monarchs weren't the only butterflies around Cape May Point today, we also observed American Ladies, Cloudless Sulphurs, Orange Sulphurs, Variegated Fritillaries, Red Admirals, Question Marks, Ocola Skippers, Sachems, and perhaps a few others.  Thursday's forecast calls for a warm, sunny morning followed by showers and the arrival of a cold front.  The morning is likely to be excellent for monarchs and other butterflies, and the cold front coming later in the day may signal the end of this surprising late butterfly bonanza.

Pristine Monarch nectaring on lantana in the Triangle Park.





Sunday, October 30, 2016

End of Season

   It's hard to believe that the MMP 2016 season is about to come to a close. From my first day as a seasonal naturalist when I only tagged a few monarchs, to the 24th of October when I tagged over one hundred, it has been a delight to be part of this important project.The numbers of monarchs may not have been huge this season, but the enthusiasm and interest of our hundreds of visitors was. Some came to see the the monarchs to mark a special birthday or anniversary. Others were moved to tears as they released this enchanting butterfly at our demos at the Cape May Point State Park. The students that we spoke to from the Middle Township School,  West Cape May Elementary School, and Wildwood School were all very interested in this charismatic butterfly. The small, more intimate gatherings at Triangle Park gave me a chance to engage visitors in a relaxed and beautiful setting, and let them witness netting and tagging, Noteworthy moments included finding out who was to be the recipient of the monarch they were adopting. For many, it was a grandchild, for others, their siblings, or in honor of a relative or friend.  It was a treat for them to "adopt" the monarch that they saw me tag.  (Inquire about supporting our project through adoptions at monarchs@njaudubon.org.) 
     An early article about the MMP in the Atlantic City Press started off our season. Our skilled leaders, Louise Zematis and Mark Garland, were on hand for the interview. Mid-season, Lindsey Brendel, our other seasonal naturalist for the MMP, spoke to a local radio station about the monarch life cycle and conservation issues.      Our project received much interest and help from our many volunteers. Also, Dick Walton, our project founder, was on hand for several weeks as well. A highlight of my time here was meeting the warm, friendly, and generous people of Cape May. I learned so much from everyone here. Being welcome into the gardens of neighborhood people who provide rich habitat for monarch caterpillars and butterflies allowed us to conduct our research and see first-hand what a difference these gardens make. I would encourage you to provide a Monarch Waystation by having a garden with common milkweed, swamp milkweed, or butterfly weed and nectar sources which will also serve to make your garden colorful and appealing. (See monarchwatch.com on how to certify your garden and get a cool sign! ) 
Diane Tassey is a natural teacher.  Here she explains
monarch migration at one of our tagging demos.




Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Late surge of monarchs

Monarch numbers were good last week, but extreme winds kept most hunkered down over the weekend.  Strong northwest winds continued on Monday, and a noticeable increase of monarchs occurred.  Observations were made at Cape May Point, at the Avalon Seawatch, and at Stone Harbor Point.  Tuesday's weather forecast is very promising; if weather like this had come two or three weeks ago we would have predicted a very large flight of monarchs.  It's late in the season, so we don't expect a huge flight, but we do expect the numbers to increase over the next day or two.  We'll be out there watching, and at the very least we know there will be excellent flights of migratory birds occurring.

Here are a few photos from Monday.








Friday, October 21, 2016

Last tagging demos

It's been a week of steady monarch migration through Cape May, and our team has accomplished a lot of tagging.  The seaside goldenrod is at peak bloom along the dunes at Cape May Point, but surprisingly we haven't seen many monarchs here.  We've watched them taking off over Delaware Bay and heading to Mexico, but most of the nectaring monarchs have been seen in the local gardens.  Friday's forecast suggests another good day for seeing monarchs at Cape May Point, but high winds are predicted for the weekend, and those are not good conditions for monarch viewing.

Male monarch at a private garden in Cape May Point.
Our education programs are wrapping up for the year.  Last Sunday we held the year's final tagging demo at Cape May Point State Park.  We are grateful for the hundreds of visitors who attended these programs.  On Wednesday we held our final Triangle Park drop-in program for 2016.  This weekend, both Saturday and Sunday, we'll offer short tagging demos at noon at the Cape May Convention Hall, part of the New Jersey Audubon Society's autumn festival, details here: NJA Fall Festival.

Our field studies continue until October 31, so if you're around Cape May Point watch for members of our team.  We're usually the only ones carrying butterfly nets.  We're always happy to greet visitors and talk about monarch butterflies.

Project volunteer Paige Cunningham tags a monarch at last Sunday's demo.




Thursday, October 20, 2016

Monarch numbers in Cape May Point have been steady for the last week or so, and we saw a modest increase yesterday.  While there's no great spectacle, there have been enough monarchs to keep our taggers busy.  Conditions look good for Thursday and Friday, and we're hoping that we will finally see a significant surge of migrant monarchs arriving into Cape May.  A big cold front is predicted to arrive for the weekend, however, with winds predicted to be from 20 to 40 mph, and those aren't good winds for monarchs.  Whatever the weather, we'll be continuing our censuses every day through October 31.

It's a great time of year to visit Cape May Point.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Will change in weather bring monarchs?

We had another heavy rain in Cape May over the weekend, but the rain cleared out on Sunday afternoon, pushed out by the autumn's first major cold front.  Gusty northwest winds triggered a major hawk flight, with hundreds of falcons passing over the Point on Sunday afternoon and a staggering tally of over 3,000 raptors counted on Monday.  Northwest winds are often the best for monarch migration too, but the winds were a bit too strong for a major butterfly migration event.

Tuesday is starting out clear and cool, with winds switching around to the northeast.  Could this be the day for a major influx of monarchs into Cape May?  It's certainly possible.  One of our volunteers reported a noticeable increase in monarchs yesterday at Ocean City, NJ, about 25 miles to our north.  Our team will be out watching today, and we'll report back promptly if monarch numbers increase significantly.

A small but very enthusiastic group showed up for Sunday's
tagging demo on a cold, wet, windy day.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Update

We saw a few more monarchs around Cape May during the first week of October, but the easterly winds that have dominated this autumn have continued, and the total monarch numbers remain low.  We're hoping that the east winds have pushed many migrating monarchs to the west side of Delaware Bay.  We hear encouraging reports about the numbers of monarchs being seen in Pennsylvania and further south, including reports from the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Monarchs will continue to migrate throughout the month of October, so we still have chances to experience a few big butterfly days.


Naturalists Lindsey Brendel and Diane
Tassey at one of our tagging demos.
Field Coordinator Louise Zemaitis meets with enthusiastic
students at a recent tagging demo.

While our counts are low, attendance at our various programs remains high.  Our tagging demos continue on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through October 16.  Meet our team at 2:00 pm for one of these talks, which are held at Cape May Point State Park's East Picnic Shelter.  Our informal drop-in programs at the Triangle Park continue through October 19, daily at 11:00 am.