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.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Saturday update

MMP Founder Dick Walton with 2017 Interns Rebecca Zerlin & Stephanie Augustine.
Dick Walton, our Founder and Director Emeritus, headed back to his home in Massachusetts this morning.  Dick had the vision and the drive to begin the Monarch Monitoring Project in 1990, and he ran the program for more than 25 years, even though he has never lived in Cape May.  He continues to take time out of his schedule every autumn to come to Cape May Point to help with the work of the project.  He provides wisdom and mentorship to our Interns and to all of our volunteers.  We always wish he could stay longer, but Dick is a brilliant naturalist who is involved with many projects, including the study of jumping spiders (see here).  Thanks, Dick, for your wisdom, foresight, guidance, and friendship.

Monarch feeding on seaside goldenrod at Cape May Point.

Meanwhile, the monarch migration continues through Cape May Point.  After seeing very few monarchs on Thursday, due to heavy winds (a gale warning was in place all day), a modest number came out of hiding on Friday, mostly seen feeding in gardens and along the dunes in Cape May Point.  It's hard to know what's going to happen over the next few days, as the weather forecast is quite unsettled.  We do know that there are still a lot of monarchs to our north, so the possibility exists for another big surge to come through Cape May.

Rebecca Zerlin at tagging demo.
We do know that our public outreach programs are continuing.  Our last two formal tagging demos at Cape May Point State Park will be held on Saturday, Oct. 14 and Sunday, Oct. 15.  The programs begin at 2 pm at the East Shelter in Cape May Point State Park, and there is no fee.  These programs begin with about ½ hour talk about monarch biology, migration, and conservation, and then our staff and volunteers spread out and each gathers a small group of visitors to show how monarchs are tagged.  We will also have tagging demos as part of the Cape May Fall Festival, run by NJ Audubon's Cape May Bird Observatory.  Our casual "drop-in" programs continue every Monday through Thursday through October 26.  These programs begin at 1 pm and are held at the Triangle Park in Cape May Point, located at the junction of Lighthouse and Coral Avenues.  We hope to see many friends of monarchs at our upcoming programs.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Thursday update

We saw good numbers of monarchs around Cape May Point yesterday.  During the late morning, after some early rain, monarchs were moving back and forth along the dunes.  After noon many headed inland a block or two, feeding on flowers, as shown below.

Monarch feeding on zinnias in a Cape May Point garden

Monarchs feeding on English Ivy flowers.  The tagged monarch
at upper right was tagged here at Cape May Point by visitors. 
We know that there are still lots of monarchs to be seen in Cape May Point this year.  We continue to receive reports of many monarchs in areas to our north, including New York, Connecticut, and Ontario.  We know that some monarchs still haven't emerged from the chrysalis as adults; Bill Schuhl found one in his garden yesterday (see below).

Monarch at Bill Schuhl's garden, 10/11/17.

It's been raining in Cape May early Thursday morning, but the rain is predicted to stop soon.  Winds in excess of 20 mph are predicted to last all day.  We expect the monarchs here in Cape May won't be going anywhere today, and that they'll hunker down in sheltered areas where they may be tough to find.  We'll be out there looking.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

More press coverage, Tuesday outlook

We'd like to share to recent press pieces about our favorite butterflies and the work of the Monarch Monitoring Project.  From Tuesday's Press of Atlantic City:  and from Philadelphia's WHYY:  Thanks to the terrific writers of these articles.

Meanwhile, Monday's heavy wind and rain are gone, and Tuesday is sunny and warm, with a gentle wind from the north.  Monarchs have been active in the dunes at Cape May Point this morning -- not a big number, but a steady trickle moving back and forth through the seaside goldenrod patches.  Some took off for Delaware.  We keep receiving reports of more monarchs massing to our north, and we expect more to arrive into Cape May very soon.  Will it happen later today?  It's possible, but we just can't be sure.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Again we await a shift in the wind

We have been experiencing winds from the south and southwest for several days now, winds that don't usually bring many monarchs into Cape May.  We're not without monarchs, visitors have seen a few flying over the streets of Cape May Point and past the hawkwatch every day, and some are found settled into the town gardens.  The best viewing continues to be on the seaside goldenrod flowers found along the dunes and on the upper beach at Cape May Point.  If you go looking for monarchs in these areas, please stay on the paths or the section of higher beach where no plants are growing.  The goldenrods and associated plants play a vital role in the protection of the dunes, and the dunes protect the town from storm surges and extreme high tides.  Entering the vegetated area of the upper beach and dune can cause erosion that can lead to failure of the dunes.  Happily, there are usually plenty of monarchs to see and enjoy right along the paths.  Once the wind shifts, and the forecast suggests that this might happen on Tuesday, we expect to see the numbers of monarchs surging again.

Monarch on seaside goldenrod
While we haven't been seeing big concentrations of monarchs, we continue to have big audiences for our tagging demos, often in excess of 100 people.  We love sharing information about monarch butterflies, and we hope that many of you will join us again next Friday, Saturday, and Sunday when we have our next tagging demos.  We meet at 2 pm at the East Shelter of Cape May Point State Park. On Mondays through Thursdays we offer less formal programs at 1 pm in the Triangle Park in Cape May Point.

Tagging demo at Cape May Point State Park
Our team continues to tag dozens of monarch butterflies, so it seems like a good time to remind everyone about what to do if you find a tagged monarch.  You need to be able to read the 3-letter, 3-number code on the bottom line of the tag; in the photo below, the tag code is XAY 578.  To better read the code on a photo, underexpose your photo -- make it darker than the meter wants.  That way the tag will be easier to read, since it's lighter in color than the monarch or the background.  The tag also includes an e-mail address and a toll-free number, and you can report the tagged monarch either way.  Be sure to include your contact information, date and time of your sighting, and the location.  Better yet, the folks at Monarch Watch encourage reports via this website: Online monarch reports.  We always hope that many of the monarchs that we tag will be sighted and reported.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Monday update -- they're back!

After having very good numbers of monarchs around on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, we watched a major exodus on Sunday morning.  We feel a little sad to watch them go, yet we're happy that they are on their way to Mexico.  The winds were predicted to blow from the east early this week, and we expected a few quieter days before the next surge was to arrive into our area.

Much to our surprise, the wind continued to blow gently from the north on Monday, and by the afternoon we saw another major influx of monarchs into Cape May Point.  By mid-afternoon the seaside goldenrod along the beach at Cape May Point was absolutely loaded with monarchs.

Since the afternoon was warm and the winds were gentle, many monarchs kept feeding until sunset; some monarchs began settling into overnight roosts as the sun began to set, but our guess is that more came into those roosts during the late twilight hours.

Our predictions are often wrong, but here's our guess: Right after sunrise there will be good sized roosts at various locations.  The most recent best roosting spot, in the pines along the trail to the beach at St. Peters-by-the-sea in Cape May Point, will probably have plenty of monarchs at sunrise.  As the day starts to warm, most monarchs will probably head back into the seaside goldenrod to feed, while some will head out across Delaware Bay to continue their southbound migrations.

Whatever happens tomorrow, we'll report back to let you know.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Saturday update: Plenty of monarchs!

We've got brisk northwest winds in Cape May today, so brisk that few monarchs appear to be departing for Delaware, but others seem to be arriving.  The hot spots are currently right along the dunes on the eastern portion of Cape May Point, and the butterflies are active around the path to the beach from St. Peter's Chapel, at the corner of Harvard, Ocean, and South Lake.  The woods here held a substantial overnight roost last night, and it looks like there will be just as many this evening, if not more.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Monarchs a-plenty in Cape May

We were forced to be patient early this week, as east and northeast winds swirled around Hurricane Maria, which parked itself offshore for a few days.  But everything changed on Thursday, when the winds switched around to come from the northwest.  Monarch numbers steadily increased on Thursday, but Friday brought the year's first really big flights.  All day long we watched monarchs dropping into Cape May Point from the sky, stopping to feed in gardens, amongst ivy vines, and especially along the dunes, where the Seaside Goldenrod has just started blooming.

As we watched monarch numbers build all day, we started to anticipate monarch roosting in the late afternoon.  When the temperatures start to get chilly, and when lots of monarchs are around, they'll cluster together in the late afternoon, reminiscent of the way they cluster together by the millions in their Mexican wintering areas.  By late afternoon we started searching, and we found a number of areas where a few hundred monarchs we forming roosts.

One of the biggest roosts was found in the pine trees along the pathway to the beach by the St. Peter's chapel, where Harvard, Ocean, and Lake streets meet.  Roosts were also found by the corner of Cape & Lincoln, and also along Alexander Ave.

We were delighted by a visit from Ted Greenberg of Philadelphia's NBC-10 television station, who filmed and produced a short segment on the monarchs of Cape May Point, which you can see here:

The forecast suggests that monarchs will continue to migrate through Cape May Point in good numbers on Saturday and possibly also on Sunday.  If you come to Cape May to see the monarchs this weekend, we hope you'll come to one of our Monarch Talks and Tagging Demos, which are held at the East Shelter of Cape May Point State Park at 2:00 pm on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through October 15.