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, January 31, 2019

Good News from Mexico

The World Wildlife Fund just released results of the annual survey of monarch overwintering sites in Mexico, and the news is great -- the most area covered with monarchs since the winter of 2006 - 07.  The chart below is courtesy of the Monarch Joint Venture.  Learn more on their website:

Data from 1994-2003 were collected by personnel of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR) of the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas (CONANP) in Mexico. Data from 2004-2019 were collected by the WWF-Telcel Alliance, in coordination with the Directorate of the MBBR. 2000-01 population number as reported by Garcia-Serrano et. al (The Monarch Butterfly : Biology and Conservation, 2004)

Monarch numbers naturally fluctuate, so it's too early to tell if this is just a signal that 2018 was a very good year for monarchs, or if conservation efforts are paying dividends.  Monarch enthusiasts need to continue working to protect habitat, plant milkweed, and maintain nectar sources for southbound migrating monarchs.  We're all hoping that this is the beginning of an upward trend.

Monarchs at El Rosario, Mexico, February 2018
Curiously, monarch numbers are dramatically lower at overwintering areas in California.  Dr. David James of Washington State University pondered this on a post from his Facebook page, "MonarchButterfliesinThePacificNorthwest," noting a theory of the late Dr. Lincoln Brower (co-founder of our project here in Cape May) that this population is periodically augmented by monarchs from the eastern population.  See his comments on the January 23 post from this page:

Monarchs at Cerro Pelón, February 2018
In other monarch news, at the Cerro Pelón Sanctuary in Mexico, a monarch was just found that had been tagged at The Nature Conservancy's Muleshoe Ranch in Arizona on October 2, 2018.  Research and tagging in Arizona are conducted by the group Southwest Monarch Study, learn more about their work at their website,  Their work has shown that some monarchs from Arizona migrate to the California coast, while others go to Mexico. The dynamics of this population are still being unraveled.

Monday, December 24, 2018

First 2018 Recovery Data

Holiday greeting to all friends of the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project.  The first reports have trickled in about monarchs tagged in Cape May during the 2018 fall migration and found elsewhere.  There are no reports from Mexico yet, that information always comes much later.  We are happy to report about five monarchs tagged here and found a significant distance away:

YCB 266, tagged 9/20/18 by Lu Daniels, found 10/13/18 in Savannah, GA
YCA 050, tagged 9/28/18 by Karen McClennen, found 101518 in Chapel Hill, NC
YCC 154, tagged 10/3/18 by Patsy Eickelberg, found 10/12/18 in Tabscott, VA
YBY 375, tagged 10/5/18 by Sarah Crosby, found 10/9/18 in New Market, MD
YCB 572, tagged 10/23/18 by Betty Ross, found 11/17/18 in Spring Hill, FL

We hope to receive data about many more of the monarchs tagged by our project this year.

Reports are coming in from Mexico that suggest a major increase in the number of monarchs being seen in the winter colonies.  While NJ Audubon does not have a Mexico trip planned for 2019, we are planning a trip for late February 2020, when we hope the numbers will also be big.

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.