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, June 1, 2017

Big Day for Monarchs at the World Series of Birding

Michael O'Brien provided this description of the Monarchists' efforts in the 2017 World Series of Birding.  The efforts of the Monarchists provides well over half the annual funding for the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project; we are most grateful for all support!

Monarchists and supporters, May 6, 2017.
On May 6, 2017, the CMBO Monarchists participated in their eighth consecutive World Series of Birding, our annual fundraiser for the Monarch Monitoring Project. Once again, we competed in the no “Carbon Footprint” category, which means no motorized vehicles were used. So, for twenty-four hours (well, actually more like twenty hours) we bicycled and walked around Cape Island, trying to find as many species as possible to maximize our “dollars per bird” raised for the MMP. Due to some scheduling conflicts, the Monarchists fielded a slightly smaller team in 2017 than in past years, including team captain Louise Zemaitis along with Meg Walker Hedeen and Michael O’Brien.

Listening for birds in the wee hours before dawn.
Our day began promptly at midnight with a search for owls in West Cape May. It was a pleasantly balmy night with overcast skies, but a stiff breeze out of the Southeast meant less than ideal listening conditions for owls. That wind direction also meant very little chance for nocturnal migrants, which would more likely drift our way on westerly or southwesterly winds. But we got lucky right away with a begging juvenile Great Horned Owl – lucky for us, baby birds are always hungry now matter how windy it is! Shortly thereafter, we accidentally flushed a roosting Wild Turkey, which was a mutually startling experience, and turned out to be our only turkey of the day. Excited by a good start, we trudged along searching for nocturnal birds. With much persistence, we eventually conjured up an Eastern Screech-Owl, heard an American Woodcock “peenting”, heard squawks from Virginia Rail, and, as dawn approached, heard a Chuck-will’s-widow proclaiming it’s name. All in all it was a relatively successful night, considering less than ideal conditions.

Cape May Warbler at Cape May Point, seen before the WSB but not on the big day.
As dawn broke, we stood on a bluff above Pond Creek Marsh, taking in many new species, with key additions including Clapper Rail, Common Nighthawk, Northern Flicker, and Seaside Sparrow. We quickly moved on to Cape May Point, where we scoured our favorite migrants spots. As predicted, the southeast winds overnight brought us very few new migrants but were perfect for ushering yesterday’s lingering migrants on their way northward. Our warbler list was lean. But our spirits rose abruptly when we got to our morning sea watching spot and were met by our awesome support staff, Lu Ann Daniels and Ron Rollet. Protein bars, ginger-cream scones, and cafĂ© au lait awaited us on the Coral Avenue dune crossing, and we were re-energized! With sharpened eyes, the new birds came quickly: Brant, Black and Surf scoters, Common and Red-throated loons, Northern Gannet, Purple Sandpiper, Parasitic Jaeger, Royal Tern, and Black Skimmer. Sea watching was very good to us! Nearby Cape May Point State Park also yielded the long-staying Iceland Gull, as well as a noisy Northern Bobwhite.

More digging for migrants around Cape May Point and Beach Plum Farm yielded only a handful of new birds. By noon, our tired legs were ready for more fuel, so we stopped at Louise and Michael’s house for lunch and sky watching. Once again, Ron and Lu took care of us with an amazing spread including turkey wraps, drinks, and other yummy snacks to keep us going for the rest of the day. With Northern Harrier, Cooper’s Hawk, and Downy Woodpecker added to our list, we headed back out, but this time with our good luck charm, Kashi Davis, running along with us to keep our spirits high! [Kashi would remain with us for a couple of hours, and Lu also joined us at a few locations during the afternoon.] A quick jaunt out to the Sunset Beach to look for a reported Great Cormorant turned out to be a poor use of time, but our first visit to the Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge (aka, “The Meadows”) more than made up for it! In short order, we found Green-winged Teal, and a long list of shorebirds including Stilt and White-rumped sandpipers, and Red-necked Phalarope! We also ran into a number of other teams, and paused for some brief socializing.

With our list starting to fill out nicely, we headed back into the woods to continue searching for songbird migrants. The Beanery produced its resident Prothonotary Warbler, and also a surprise Barred Owl hooting in the middle of the afternoon (after being silent during our nighttime visits). Migrants, however, were not in evidence. Ditto at other little woodlots we checked in West Cape May and along Bayshore Road. As we sat at the intersection of Bayshore and New England roads, poised to make a late afternoon check of Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area, the utter lack of songbird migrants vs. good activity near the water made it an easy decision: we would skip Higbee and head back to the Meadows for a less rushed and hopefully more productive finish to the day. We’ll never know what we missed at Higbee, but the Meadows had more bounty to share with us. As we walked into the meadows, a Black-billed Cuckoo shot across the path in front of us. Then a Merlin zipped by. Then a Bank Swallow magically appeared among the local swallows hunting over the main pool (perhaps brought in by a late afternoon switch to westerly winds). Then a gull flock yielded Ring-billed and Lesser Black-backed. And then we finally found that Wilson’s Snipe that other teams had been seeing along the East Path. It was a strong finish to a day when migrants were very tough to come by. Although we didn’t win any awards, we were all pleased with our result of 127 species, and even more pleased with how much money we raised from all our generous supporters. Thank you all!

For those who also pledged for the butterfly species that we tallied, that number was 9, with these species seen: Tiger Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail, Cabbage White, Orange Sulphur, Spring Azure, Pearl Crescent, Common Buckeye, American Lady, and Silver-spotted Skipper. 

It's not too late to make your contribution!  Visit the Monarchists' page on the World Series of Birding,, if you'd like to chip in.  All contributions go to support the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project, which conducts research and educational outreach programs relating to the migration of monarchs through Cape May.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

We're hiring for the fall

Applications are now being accepted for our two seasonal Field Naturalist Intern positions, work that runs from late August into early November.  The full job description is below.  Further down we've included a few photos from recent years to provide a glimpse of the work involved.

Position: Field Naturalist Intern, Monarch Monitoring Project
Departments: Research and Education
Location: Cape May, New Jersey
Reports to: CMBO Program Director and MMP Director
Job Classification: Fulltime Seasonal

Job Description: FIELD NATURALIST INTERN for ongoing MONARCH MONITORING PROJECT at New Jersey Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory, Cape May, New Jersey August 24 to November 7. Cape May is renowned as one of the world's great hot spots for migration. NJA fosters the application of sound scientific principles and practices to address conservation issues related to vertebrate and invertebrate fauna, and the natural habitats with which they are associated. 

·         Daily road censuses of migrating Monarchs
·         Monarch tagging
·         Data entry
·         Educating the public about the project and Monarch biology
·         Maintain display of monarch caterpillars and chrysalides

      Experience interacting with the public and excellent interpersonal skills
      Enthusiastic and motivated self-starter who is also a strong team player
      Familiarity with insect ecology a plus, but not required
      Willingness to work irregular hours
      Careful data collecting and entry skills
      Must have own vehicle and a valid, clean driver’s license
      Must be able to lift and carry 25 lbs as needed

Start Date: August 24, 2017                                  Ending Date: November 7, 2017

Salary: $1000/month; housing and reimbursement for gas provided

Application Deadline: June 20, 2017

Please send cover letter of interest, resume, and three references as a single pdf document (including email and phone contact info) to:  New Jersey Audubon (NJ Audubon) is a privately supported, not-for profit, statewide membership organization. Founded in 1897, and one of the oldest independent Audubon societies, NJ Audubon is not connected with the National Audubon Society. NJ Audubon is an equal opportunity employer (EOE).

Monarch tagging
Tagged monarch

Monarch tagging demo at Cape May Pt. State Park
Teaching children about monarch migration
Young ones are intrigued by close-up views of monarchs

Display of caterpillars and chrysalides at the Northwood Center

Thursday, May 11, 2017

World Series of Birding Results

The Monarchists Team found 126 species of birds plus 8 species of butterflies during the World Series of Birding competition on May 6th.  This fundraising event serves as the primary source of funding for the Monarch Monitoring Project.  It's not too late to make your contribution!  See details here:

Thanks to all who have made contributions in support of our efforts!

The Monarchists and supporters around the midpoint of the World Series of Birding.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Support monarchs through the World Series of Birding

The 2016 CMBO Monarchists team
in the World Series of Birding
The 34th annual World Series of Birding will be held on Saturday, May 6, 2017.  The CMBO Monarchists team will return for our sixth year.  Again we will compete in two categories, eligible for the Carbon Footprint Award (no motor vehicles) and for the Cape Island Cup (searching only on Cape Island, the area south of the Cape May Canal).  We had been on a winning streak, earning the Carbon Footprint Award in 2013 and 2014 and the Cape Island Cup in 2012, but luck wasn’t with us in 2015, when we ended up finding just 111 species.  We did much better in 2016, with 145, but competition was fierce and we didn’t win.

    Most importantly, however, we raise funds for the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project, a research and education project of the New Jersey Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory.  The Monarchists team will be veterans from the last few years, with Louise Zemaitis (Captain), Meghan Walker Hedeen, and Michael O’Brien.  Longtime team members Lu Ann Daniels and Mark Garland will each miss the event this year, but each will still help with the fundraising effort. We are fortunate to have many other helpers.

    The World Series of Birding is a friendly bird-finding competition that takes place each May in New Jersey.  The Carbon Footprint category is in just its ninth year, and the award is given to the team that finds the most birds without using a motor vehicle.  Our team will walk and ride bicycles around Cape May, hoping for a day when migrants are abundant.  While it’s not part of the formal competition, we also count the number of butterfly species we find.  Sponsors can choose to pledge for butterflies and/or birds.

     Once again this year donors have the option to make pledges online.  Please visit our team’s page on the World Series of Birding website and you can make your pledge or contribution here.  You can also do it the old-fashioned way by sending a check (details at the bottom of the page).

    We are hoping to find more than 120 species of birds by sight or by sound around Cape May on May 6, plus 10 or more species of butterflies.  Think we can do it?  Check this site after the event for the results.

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 
     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 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.