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.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Many Monarchs in Cape May

Strong southerly breezes bathed Cape May on Monday and Tuesday, winds that usually don't mean good monarch numbers.  But last weekend brought many monarchs to New Jersey's southern tip, and so they have just stayed here feeding on wildflower nectar and waiting for more favorable winds before continuing their migration.

Monarch nectaring on seaside goldenrod in Cape May Point.

Monarchs weren't obvious at first glance.  Strong winds kept them from flying around very much, so birders on the hawk watch platform hadn't been seeing many.  They were surprised on Tuesday when I mentioned that there were lots of monarchs in Cape May Point.  You wouldn't have seen them unless you visited gardens or sheltered patches of goldenrod near the dunes, but then you would have marveled at dozens and dozens of monarchs, feeding contentedly.

The monarch's long proboscis is uncoiled and inserted into flowers,
and the butterfly imbibes the nectar by suction, just as we drink from a straw.

With so many monarchs around the flowers, it was a great day for tagging.  At least four members of our team spent part of the day tagging monarchs around Cape May Point, and we also found some monarchs that had been tagged by someone else.  We probably won't know where these butterflies for quite some time, as data is compiled by the Monarch Watch team at the University of Kansas.  Perhaps these monarchs were tagged right here in Cape May Point.  We don't mind if other taggers work here, but we do ask that they leave us the tag numbers of any monarchs that they tag in or around Cape May, as there's a good chance we'll recapture some of these.

Monarch TLW 729 wasn't tagged by the Monarch Monitoring Project team,
but was found today along Harvard Ave. in Cape May Point.  Most of our
monarchs are tagged on the left hind wing, this one's tag on the left hind wing
was a sign that this was someone else's work.

This is a good time to remind readers of the blog how to report a sighting of a tagged monarch.  You'll need to read the 3-letter, 3-digit code that's on the tag, TLW 729 in the one above, TLA 801 in the one below.  Make note of the date, time, and location, and send this information to Monarch Watch either with an e-mail message to, or with a phone call to the toll-free number 1-888-TAGGING.  The e-mail address and the phone number are both printed on every tag.  You can read the code by netting the butterfly (if you've got a net and a deft hand), but it's often easier to just take a photo, as we've done here.  Every tag recovery adds to our understanding of monarch migration.

Monarch TLA 801 was tagged by Gayle Steffy during her visit to Cape May last weekend.
Gayle, our intern in 1996, visits from Pennsylvania almost every autumn.

So what will the next days bring?  As always, we can only guess, but moderately strong west winds are predicted for Wednesday, and I imagine it will be another good day for seeing monarchs in the gardens.  No promises on this, the butterflies often surprise us.  We can promise, however, that our team will be at Cape May Point for tagging demos at 2 pm Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  This is the last week for these free programs, so come visit if you can.  You're sure to see at least a few monarchs, and the dunes, beaches, and other habitats around Cape May are especially beautiful at this season.

The dunes and beach at Whilldin Avenue in Cape May Point.

Angela Demarse describes our research work to an eager group at
a recent tagging demo.

Lindsey Brendel tags a monarch at the demo while visitors watch intently.

Lindsey's group watches with delight as a newly tagged
monarch flies away towards Mexico.

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