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, October 31, 2013

Last day as the monarch intern for 2013

So today wraps up the season for monarchs in Cape May. As the 2013 field technician, I do have to say I'm very sad to leave behind this incredible opportunity. I enjoyed every moment of my job, even though it has been quite a low and disappointing year for many.

I always enjoyed censusing by car, whether we had a good number of monarchs or none. I loved going out and tagging monarchs, even on the days when there weren't many around to be tagged. I loved giving informal demos to locals around the point, or visitors in the CMBO.

I appreciated every conversation I had with someone, whether it was a local or a visitor who traveled for hours or days to be a part of what we do and learn more about our project. It was truly inspiring to see the look on someone's face when they got to release a monarch butterfly and send it on its way to Mexico. 

It was touching for me when visitors "adopted" their own monarch in memory of a passed loved one. It made my heart melt when I had groups of children who never even saw a butterfly before, stop and hold all of their attention on a tagging demonstration and smile with such intensity as they released a monarch off their fingertips, that it will leave an impression in my heart forever. 

Photo taken by Dave Magpiong

I had fun raising 40+ butterflies from eggs at the CMBO (and still going... now I have a huge tent set up in my dining room with 13 caterpillars of assorted sizes and 4 chrysalids that may emerge any day now!). 

I also loved coordinating monarch themed outfits to wear on a daily basis.. although most of the time it just happened to work out that way :)

Photo taken by Louise Zemaitis

I also want to thank some very important people who have been a significant part of the project. 

Louise Zemaitis and Mark Garland have supervised the project and helped me tremendously the past 2 months. They have been kind, helpful, and I consider them both close friends of mine after how much closer I have become to both of them. They have provided endless abundances of information about monarchs to help me learn and educate others during the duration of our project. I also have to thank Michael O'Brien and Paige Cunningham for their endless support and encouragement as well.

Dick Walton and Patsy Eickelberg spent 3 weeks in Cape May during the monarch season and I am thankful for every moment I got to spend with them. Dick, the directer of the MMP is an extrodinary naturalist and really offered me a lot of insight and guidance throughout the season. He spent time sharing some of his other passions with me and teaching me about dragonflies and jumping spiders. I learned a tremendous amount from him while he was here and hope to always keep in touch as he has been an excellent mentor to me and I'm sure he will continue to be throughout my naturalist's career that lies ahead. His wife Patsy is one of the sweetest people I have ever met. She is so warm and pleasant and taught me a few tricks up her sleeve of catching handfuls of monarchs in one net sweep at a time. She is by far the best butterfly catcher I have seen.

Lynn Lee is a very special woman who I am fortunate to call my friend. I feel as though her and I bonded during the time she stayed in Cape May Point, traveling hours from her hometown in Derwood, Maryland to help with our monarch research. Lynn rears hundreds of monarchs and brings her entire "monarch nursery" set-up, and wholesome garden of home-grown milkweed with her when she comes. She taught me every trick in the book when it comes to rearing monarchs, varying from hanging chrysalids from dental floss, to arranging them how you want carefully with straight pins. Lynn has such a spiritual connection to monarch butterflies, and she is passionate about and invests her entire heart into everything that she does to make our world a better place.

Lynn Lee with her rearing cages

I also have become close with many of the local gardeners around Cape May point; Bill and Edie Schuhl, Pecky Witonski, and Patti Domm. Without their incredible gardens and all of the work they put into them, I wouldn't have had many monarchs to tag! Their yards provide safe havens and a lasting supply of resources to monarch butterflies and many other species as well.

I want to thank many of our other volunteers, including but not limited to LuAnn Daniels, Megan Walker and Kashi Davis for your constant help and support of the MMP! Kashi you have always been there for me in all that I do and I appreciate every bit you have done for me!

Thank you to every person who has traveled to Cape May from all over the world to be a part of our nature-appreciating community and take interest in the research that we do. Every smile we have gotten, every donation we have recieved and every bit of feedback is all appreciated tremendously. 

Just another day at work, having the best job in the world.
I will miss this!
I can't thank everyone enough for this outstanding season and I will carry the experiences I have gained, the knowledge I have learned, and the memories of every monarch I have tagged with me everywhere that I go.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Monarch Season Winding Down

The sun is setting on another monarch migration season
at Cape May Point.

2013 Intern Samm Wehman
at one of our tagging demos.
 Field Coordinator Louise Zemaitis
tags a monarch.

We are down to the last few days of the 2013 field season of the Monarch Monitoring Project, feeling a bit disappointed that we never experienced a huge influx of monarchs.  There was never an absolute gap in the migration, however, and since the beginning of the field season (Sept. 1) there have been some monarchs around to observe and enjoy every single day.  We still have two more days to census, but it looks like this will be the third lowest year since our studies began in 1991.

Project Director Dick Walton teaches about monarchs.

We will reflect on the numbers in a later post, but today I just want to think back on some of the season's highlights.  Again this year we met with hundreds of people who were eager to learn about monarch biology, watch the tagging, and get an up-close experience with these charismatic insects.

Mid-season tagging demo.  Lynn Lee shows
a tagged monarch to an excited family.

Almost every day of the fall brought at least a few monarchs to enjoy, and several times we saw groups of monarchs gathering in sheltered forest patches or among the seaside goldenrods on the dunes of Cape May Point.  Plenty of other butterflies also visited the Point this fall, entertaining our team and visiting butterfly aficionados.  We all love the peak years, when clouds of monarchs appear in the Cape May skies, but even the lower years are rather spectacular.

Monarchs at Cape May Point.
Question Mark.
Cloudless Sulphur.
Fiery Skipper.

Eastern Tailed Blue.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Late Surge?

There was a noticeable increase in monarch numbers around Cape May Point yesterday, and a cold front will bring winds from the northwest beginning Wednesday afternoon.  Northwest winds are usually the best for bringing monarchs into Cape May.  So if the season has one more push of monarchs for us, it should occur over the next few days.  Any monarchs arriving in Cape May will find plenty of nectar from the seaside goldenrod, which is blooming prolifically along the dunes.  Stay tuned and we will update when we know more.

The goldenrod is ready and waiting.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Only 2 more tagging demos of the 2013 season!

Visitors at today's monarch tagging demo formed a special bond with some of the tagged monarchs. Don't miss out on YOUR very own chance to release a monarch butterfly! 

This Friday and Saturday (10/18 & 10/19) will be the last tagging demos of the season, both at 2 PM at the Cape May Point State Park. Hear a very informative talk about monarch butterflies, get all your questions answered and see the tagging in action. We hope to see you there!

Special thanks to our beautiful monarch models today!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Where do the monarchs go when it rains?

It's been raining quite a bit the past few days, and our census numbers seem to be sparse when it's raining. So where do all the monarchs disappear to when it rains? Today I witnessed the answer for myself. While doing the noon census count, halfway through the route, the rain stopped and the sun started to come out. The dune line of Cape May Point came to life as monarchs emerged from the pines and shrubs, and splashes of orange fluttered across the road. When the rain stops, even for short spurts, the monarchs (and other butterflies) emerge from sheltered areas they have been hiding in, and dash out to feed on nectar which is a crucial source of energy for them to store as they prepare for Mexico. Many of the monarchs in Cape May were not born here; they are only making a pit stop after coming from more northern locations. Past tagging recoveries have taught us that monarchs tend to travel along the coastline down towards Florida, where they will then follow the panhandle and western coast along the Gulf of Mexico, heading right towards their destination. When weather conditions are poor for traveling, the monarchs seek protection and find the closest shelter they can. Sturdy plants and trees; especially pines, provide good shelter and a sturdy grip for their double-hooked feet to grasp onto until weather conditions are favorable again. If you're in Cape May for the weekend, don't lose hope on seeing monarchs, just remember to keep your eyes out for them for short spurts once the showers stop and a little bit of sun breaks through. Have a good weekend :)


Thursday, October 10, 2013

MMP on YouTube

At least two videos posted on YouTube feature the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project.

Roxbro Films recently produced this snappy little video, just over a minute long, about our work here in Cape May:

Our project is included in this 12-minute Google Earth overview of monarch migration:

Let us know what you think!

Thanks to Bill & Edie

A highlight of the Monarch Migration Project (MMP) season at Cape May Point is the annual MMP dinner. On the evening of October 7th staff, volunteers, and friends gathered to socialize and enjoy a potluck dinner. Our annual dinner was hosted this year by Bill and Edie Schuhl with the able assistance of Patsy Eickelberg. It is impossible to say too much about how critical volunteers have been to our program throughout the years. Bill and Edie are a perfect example and have perennially played a very special role for the MMP. Their gardens, yard and "magic trees" are a magnet for both butterflies and birds and regularly draw naturalists seeking Cape May specialties both common and rare. MMP personnel have tagged hundreds of monarchs in their front yard and often do interviews as well as special group demos at the Schuhl's. Bill and Edie's porch has served as the MMP "lab" on more than one occasion and their spacious and comfortable home is the perfect spot for our annual gathering. Of course Bill and Edie themselves are the real magic of this very special place on the Point. Their gracious hospitality, energy, and patience has been an integral part of MMP activities and we trust it will be so for many years to come. And so we tip our hats to Bill and Edie and offer them our sincere thanks. 

Posted by Dick Walton

Bill & Edie Schuhl

Heavy rain and wind

Cape May is currently experiencing lots of rain and wind due to a coastal storm, the type of storm we call a "Nor'easter".  We don't expect any monarchs to be migrating through the storm, and butterfly-viewing conditions don't get much worse than this.  Still, our team will be at Cape May Point State Park on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2 pm for our tagging demos.  We might not have a monarch to tag each day, but we can still share the story of this remarkable insect and describe our research efforts.  And we're still hoping for a good migration of monarchs next week after the storm passes.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The wrong wind direction ... again.

Our promising morning turned into an okay, but not spectacular day for the migration of monarchs through Cape May.  The wind switched to blowing from the southwest.  Tomorrow's forecast wind direction: southwest.  We have had a lot of southwest winds this fall.  Those winds don't typically bring many monarchs to Cape May, as they would be fighting headwinds to get here, but sometimes the butterflies fool us, and sometimes the weather forecasters are wrong.  So we'll be out there again tomorrow, counting and tagging, and generally keeping track of migration.

While monarch numbers are lower than average, they are far from the lowest we have seen.  We encourage monarch enthusiasts to check the data page on our website regularly:  We have been hearing a lot of negative comments about this year's migration, with many extreme comments such as, "There are no monarchs this year," or "This is the worst it's ever been."  We find ourselves on the defensive from these comments, and always point to the data, not to impressions.  This is why we have been counting monarchs systematically for 22 autumns, so we are able to judge the migration through Cape May based on numbers, not recollections.  And there are monarchs in Cape May this fall, there have been monarchs counted here every day of the census period, and several years have seen lower number than this year.  I like to remind folks that it's human nature to remember the big years, not the low ones -- the big flights are the ones that are memorable.

That's not to say that there aren't reasons to be concerned about the migratory population of monarchs that inhabit eastern North America, and we talk about conservation at every one of our tagging demos.  Come visit us if you can.  Our demos will continue every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through October 19 at Cape May Point State Park, 2 pm in the East Picnic Pavilion.

MMP Director Dick Walton talks about monarch biology
to the group at Wednesday's tagging demo.

MMP Field Coordinator Louise Zemaitis tags
a monarch at Wednesday's demo.

A Promising Morning

Members of the Monarch Monitoring Project have noticed a significant increase in the numbers of monarchs flying over the dunes at Cape May Point this morning.  Thirty-nine monarchs were counted on the 9:00 am census, which calculates to well over 100 per hour.  Seaside goldenrod is starting to bloom along the dunes, too, and this native plant is an excellent nectar source for adult monarchs.  If you're around Cape May Point today, I suggest a visit to any of the dune crossover trails.  Watch for monarchs on the goldenrod and up in the sky.  Flower gardens around the Point might also see a significant increase in monarchs today.  We don't know yet if this will be a small, short-lived surge in monarch numbers or if it's the beginning of a big push, but we'll be sure to report back before the end of the day with more information.

Monarch feeding on seaside goldenrod, Solidago sempervirens.