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.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Meet the staff

Preparations for the 2019 field season have been taking place for a while now.  We have ordered new tags, refreshed our supplies of educational materials, and worked on gardens where our field work will take place.  The most important task each summer, however, involves hiring our seasonal staff.  We hire two Field Naturalist Interns each year, and they will do most of the work during our field season, which runs from Sept. 1 through early November.  We asked each of our new Naturalists to introduce themselves to friends and supporters of the Monarch Monitoring Project.  Meet Victoria Cope and Anya Held:

Victoria Cope working in Alaska, summer 2018
Victoria Cope wrote: "I am a graduate of Sterling College with a degree in Ecology and an emphasis in Natural Resource Conservation. As an undergraduate I worked as a research assistant for Sterling College. Through this position I conducted research in ecology, mycology, entomology and agroecology. I designed a number of research projects, including a long term pollinator monitoring study. In my final semester I completed my senior thesis investigating the impact of invasive species on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in Vermont. In the summer of 2018 I worked on a research project conducted by the Forest Service in the Tongass National Forest on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, collecting data on forest regeneration, forest health, and understory vegetation. This experience solidified my love of fieldwork, ecological research, and travel. I hope to attend graduate school in the near future to continue studying ecology, conservation and entomology. I have always been interested in studying monarch butterflies and their fascinating migration, so I am thrilled to be a part of this year's study with the New Jersey Audubon and participate in conservation efforts through the Monarch Monitoring Project."

Anya Held at work at the Hershey Gardens Butterfly Atrium
"Hi! My name is Anya Held, and I recently graduated from Lebanon Valley College with a B.S. in Environmental Science. While in college, I designed and implemented a native plant garden on campus to help provide habitat and food for native wildlife. This included milkweed and other butterfly host plants. I also had the opportunity to intern at the Hershey Gardens Butterfly Atrium. During this time, I helped educate the public on a variety of arthropods (most notably butterflies), raise caterpillars, and tend to the Hershey Gardens’ insect collection. I have fond memories of searching my backyard for Monarch caterpillars and butterflies as a child, and I look forward to creating new memories through the Monarch Monitoring Project! I’m excited to assist in the research, conservation, and education of these remarkable creatures so that others may experience them in the future."

We hope that all supporters of the MMP will help us welcome Anya Held and Victoria Cope to Cape May.  We look forward to the energy and insights that both can bring to our project.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Preparing for Migration

Preparations are underway for Field Season #30 with the Monarch Monitoring Project in Cape May.  Our research work begins on September 1, and this year's seasonal Field Naturalist Interns begin their  training on August 25.  In the coming days we will introduce you to this year's team.

Monarchs have been more numerous than usual in our area this summer, with an impressive 167 counted on the Cape May Butterfly Count, which was held on July 24.  These aren't Mexico-bound migrant monarchs, their the parents (or in some cases, the grandparents) of those that will be making the long journey in the fall.  Does this mean we will have a big migration coming up?  There's no way to tell, alas, it all depends on how successfully these generations reproduce, which is influenced by the weather.  Even more important is how well the monarchs are doing to our north.  When autumn cold fronts bring northwest winds into Cape May, we see monarchs migrating from the eastern Great Lakes region all the way east to the Atlantic coast of southern Canada.  When winds blow from the east, as happened for much of September 2018, most of the southbound monarchs seem to end up on the west side of Delaware Bay, missing Cape May altogether.  This may disappoint us, but it's probably good for the monarchs, as the crossing of Delaware Bay is hazardous and we know that some butterflies perish over the water.

Expect much more frequent blog posts now until our season winds down in early November.  In another upcoming post we will list all of the scheduled public programs coming up during the fall migration season.  We welcome all monarch enthusiasts, whether intense or casual in interest, to come to Cape May and join us in appreciation of this migratory phenomenon.  Two requests for the more serious monarch fans:

1. If you tag monarchs in Cape May, please share your tagging data with us, as we want to keep track of all monarchs tagged in and around Cape May, and of course don't enter private property or closed areas (such as the dunes at Cape May Point) without expressed permission to do so.

2. If you raise monarchs, please do not bring them to Cape May for release.  This will be our 28th year of conducting systematic censuses of monarchs in Cape May, one of the longest, most consistent data sets on monarch populations in existence.  Imported monarchs can skew our numbers and reduce the validity of our data.  Also, the water crossing of Delaware Bay is hazardous, as noted above -- you're probably not doing monarchs a favor by bringing them to the Cape.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Visit Mexico with us

If you have followed the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project for a while, you probably remember that we arranged a tour of three of the Mexican Monarch Sanctuaries in February 2018.  You can see a gallery of photos from that trip here:

We are pleased to announce that we are going back in February 2020!  New Jersey Audubon is once again sponsoring a visit to Mexico, led by Monarch Monitoring Project Director Mark Garland, and visiting 3 of the Sanctuaries: Sierra Chincua, El Rosario, and Cerro Pelón.  The trip runs from Feb. 21 to 27, and details may be found on the NJ Audubon website here:
If you love watching monarch butterflies, if you marvel at their amazing migrations, if you have seen hundreds clustering in the trees at Cape May Point, then magnify that sense of wonder a thousand times or more.  That's what it's like to visit Mexico, where countless millions of monarchs gather every winter.  There are many tours that visit one or two of the reserves, but ours is one of the very few that visits three.  Along the way we'll enjoy comfortable accommodations, tasty meals, fine camaraderie, and we'll even see a few birds along the way.

Spaces are limited, and our 2018 filled quickly.  We expect the same will happen on the upcoming trip.  For the full trip itinerary and registration information, send a message to and ask for information about the February 2020 trip to Mexico.  Join our group and you'll soon be witnessing sites like those shown below.

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.