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, November 5, 2015

Monarch season is over ... or is it?

The field season for the CMBO Monarch Monitoring Project runs from Sept. 1 through Oct. 31.  Our censuses are conducted on those days, the final one for 2015 at 2 pm last Saturday.  We haven't analyzed the data yet, but the weekly totals are posted on our website data page,

November begins many years without any monarchs still around Cape May Point; that's just about the time when they arrive en masse at the mountainous areas west of Mexico City where they'll spend the winter in a prolonged dormancy.  October's last week was very quiet for monarchs.  But the month's end, along with the first few days of November, brought mild weather to Cape May and we've seen a slight but noticeable increase in monarch numbers.  I tagged 15 over the last two days.  Can monarchs that are still in Cape May Point in early November possibly make it to Mexico?  We really don't know, but many are in great shape and seem capable of making the journey, as long as they stay ahead of the freezing weather.  So we go ahead and tag a few, hoping to someday get data returned about one of these late season butterflies.

Late season monarch on zinnias in a Cape May Point garden.
The presence of late monarchs was a bonus on Monday, when the entire 7th grade class (more than 120 students) from Richard M. Teitelman Middle School visited Cape May Point on a natural history field trip.  The well-organized teacher set up a number of stations for groups of students to visit during this full-day field trip, and Field Naturalist Lindsey Brendel of the Monarch Monitoring Project taught a session about monarch biology.  Six different groups learned from Lindsey, and happily we were able to find a monarch for each group, so all of the students could watch as a monarch was tagged and then see it released back into the wild.  Lindsey is an engaging teacher who held the students' attention quite well, but no human can compete with the charisma of a living monarch butterfly.

Field Naturalist Lindsey Brendel and students from Teitelman Middle School.

Thanks to many generous contributions to the Monarch Monitoring Project we've been able to extend Lindsey's work season until mid-November; otherwise we would not have had staff available to meet with the students this day.  Lindsey is also working to organize all the data collected by MMP team members and by volunteer Monarch Ambassadors who made studies of monarchs in areas north of Cape May proper.

All of the students were able to feel the strong grip of a monarch's feet.
Colder weather is predicted for the coming weekend, but there are no freezing temperatures in the 10-day forecast, so perhaps we'll see a few monarchs lingering well into November this year.  They're not alone, as a few other butterflies (see below) are also still on the wing.  We're tempted to spend all day, every day, out watching these late season butterflies, but we've also got a lot of work to do, organizing and interpreting data, preparing reports, and beginning to plan for the 2016 monarch season.  Please keep watching this blog to learn about what we learned in 2015 and what we plan to study in 2016.

American Lady butterflies can still be found in the gardens of Cape May Point.

The little skipper called Sachem is also still common at the Point.

Friday, October 30, 2015

And we still have monarchs

Monarchs could still be seen around Cape May Point today.  Not a lot, but enough here and there that you wouldn't go long without seeing a monarch if you were paying attention.  Many were still quite bright and fresh-looking, so perhaps they can stay ahead of the freezing weather and still make the trek to Mexico.  October 31 is the last day for our censuses every year, but this won't be the first time that we'll still have monarchs lingering into November.

Male monarch at Cape May Point, 10/30/15.

Female monarch at Cape May Point, 10/30/15.

We're not only seeing adult monarchs in Cape May here at the end of October, there are also still a few caterpillars around.  The one show below, in "J" formation just prior to pupation, won't emerge as an adult until mid-November.  It seems unlikely that it will make the trek to Mexico with so late a start, but who knows, these intrepid insects keep surprising us.

Monarchs hang in this "J" position before molting into a chrysalis.

While the censuses end after October 31, we'll still be working on the Monarch Monitoring Project, compiling the year's tagging data, conducting a few more educational programs, and organizing materials for next year's monarch season.  Later in the winter we'll make plans for new initiatives that the Monarch Monitoring Project might undertake.  It will be a busy off-season, we'll let you know what new ideas we might be trying in 2016.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Unexpected influx

We witnessed an unexpected late influx of monarchs into Cape May Point today.  It was good weather for butterflies, low 70s with gentle westerly breezes, but we didn't think there were many more monarchs left this far north.  Field Naturalist Lindsey Brendel tallied 44 on the 10:00 am census.  Monarchs could be seen drifting overhead all over Cape May, and gardens that still have some blossoms were visited frequently.  Most of the seaside goldenrod on the dunes has gone to seed, but a few monarchs found nectar on the remaining blossoms, as seen above.

It's not realistic to expect many more monarchs this year, but I imagine that there will still be more than a few in Cape May Point tomorrow.  As long as we don't get a freeze, and none is in the current forecast, we're likely to have a few lingering monarchs into November.  But after the next day or two I wouldn't expect more than a few.

Sunday, October 25, 2015


A few more monarchs were seen in Cape May on Saturday.  Sunday morning is gray with occasional drizzle, but it's supposed to clear up this afternoon, and maybe, just maybe, we'll see a few more monarchs along the Cape during the first part of the week.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Quiet week. What's next?

It's been a very quiet week for monarchs in Cape May, with just a few seen each day, some newly emerged late season butterflies, and some worn and tattered individuals that might not even try to get to Mexico.  It's been warm for a few days, with south and southwest winds that generally put a stop to the migration.  Winds are predicted to turn around tonight.  Will the favorable winds bring a late surge of monarchs into Cape May?  We should know by tomorrow evening, and we'll report at that time.

We have evidence that at least a few monarchs have been on the move during this quiet week.  This tagged monarch, SMP 909, was found in the Triangle Park of Cape May Point today.  This is not one of the tags used by our team.  Sometimes other taggers visit Cape May Point and tag monarchs here (we also ask them to share their tagging data with us, but they often don't), but perhaps this monarch was tagged from someplace far to our north.  If you tag monarchs or know of someone who does, please check tag numbers and let us know if you've got information about when and where this one was tagged.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sunday update

We've had a major departure of monarchs from Cape May this weekend, with the census count down to about 8 monarchs/hour for Sunday.  There are still some monarchs lingering amidst the seaside goldenrods on the upper beaches of Cape May Point, but the great show from a few days ago has definitely ended.  This may have been the year's last big movement of monarchs through Cape May, but we can't be certain of that -- sometimes we'll see good numbers during October's last week.  It's been a chilly weekend, but warmer temperatures are due to arrive on Tuesday.  We'll let you know if monarchs come along with the warmer weather.

Lone monarch on seaside goldenrod.

Our formal programming ended with our last 11 am "drop-in" program at the Triangle Park today, and our last tagging demo was held on Saturday afternoon.  Project Director Dick Walton, who has guided our work through 26 field seasons, is retiring from this position at the end of this season.  A small reception was held in Dick's honor yesterday afternoon, and he was presented with certificates from Field Coordinator Louise Zemaitis and Field Naturalists Lindsey Brendel and Katie Burns.  Please join us as we offer congratulations and thanks to Dick Walton for over a quarter century of leadership on monarch research, conservation, and education.

l to r: Katie Burns, Louise Zemaitis, Dick Walton, & Lindsey Brendel.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Friday evening update

It was a pleasant day for observing and studying monarchs in Cape May Point.  Our team gathered early this morning at the dune crossing near St. Peter's Chapel, where monarchs had been observed going to roost on Thursday evening.  Many visitors joined us as we watched the monarchs leave the roost one by one, first sunning on nearby pine trees and then heading into the dunes to feed on the nectar of seaside goldenrod flowers.

Part of the monarch roost this morning.  Note tagged monarch at lower right.
For much of the day we watched and tagged monarchs from the paths crossing the dunes.  A few drifted inland to gardens, especially gardens along Harvard Ave., adjacent to the dunes.  It didn't seem like many monarchs departed for Delaware, but it also didn't seem like many new ones were arriving.

Three monarchs feeding on seaside goldenrod.
Late in the afternoon many visitors gathered again near St. Peter's, hoping to see another monarch roost.  About 50 gathered in one cluster, but on Thursday evening about 150 were here.  We searched many areas around Cape May Point and found other small roosts nearby on Harvard Ave., on Lincoln Ave., at Cape May Point State Park, and along Alexander Ave., but no large roosts were found.

Monarchs gathering on pine tree near St. Peter's dune crossover.
While everyone present was hoping to find larger aggregations of monarchs, all found some satisfaction from the beauty of monarchs almost glowing in the late afternoon light.  A gorgeous sunset helped, too.  How many monarchs will be in Cape May Point this weekend?  We really can't make a good guess, but we're hoping for another good show.  We can promise to present a monarch talk and tagging demonstration at 2 pm on Saturday at the East Shelter in Cape May Point State Park, our last such program of the year.  If you're anyone near Cape May Point we hope you'll join us.

Sunset over Delaware Bay.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Roosting monarchs

Good numbers of monarchs were around all day, and as temperatures cooled in the late afternoon, monarchs started to cluster together in overnight roosts.  We hadn't found any significant clustering of monarchs this season until today.  Most were near the 3-way junction of Harvard, Lake, and Ocean in Cape May Point.  We'll share a few pictures of the roosting monarchs here.  We're hoping for another great day for monarchs in Cape May Point tomorrow.

Thursday update

Very good numbers of monarchs are being seen today along the dunes in Cape May Point, most often seen feeding on the flowers of seaside goldenrod.  It's a beautiful day with lots of migrating birds to enjoy, too.  We hear reports of very good monarch numbers at other areas along the Atlantic coast here in Cape May County, including Stone Harbor Point.  The weather forecast suggests that monarch numbers will continue to be good for the next few days, perhaps even building up beyond the current numbers.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Surprise arrivals

Monarch numbers had been remaining fairly steady around Cape May Point over the last few days.  Nothing like the big surge from Thursday through Saturday of last week, but it was never hard to find a few monarchs.  The seaside goldenrod is in full bloom along the dunes, and monarchs have been frequenting these nectar-rich flowers.  We've still been seeing them in the gardens around town as well.

Female monarch on seaside goldenrod, Solidago sempervirens.
Field Naturalist Lindsey Brendel conducted the censuses at 9 am, 12 noon, and 3 pm, on the normal schedule, and many members of the team gathered for the 11 am "drop-in" program at the Triangle Park, where there were a few monarchs, a few visitors, and a big snapping turtle distracting us as it ambled right through the garden while traveling from Lake Lily to Lighthouse Pond.

Snapping turtle.

The day was warm, so we didn't expect to see any change in monarch numbers, so most of the team headed elsewhere.  Only Lindsey was still in the field when the CMBO staff on the hawkwatch informed us that they were suddenly seeing an influx of monarchs late in the afternoon.  We all headed back down to Cape May Point to try to assess the scale of the influx.  The increase in monarch numbers was barely visible in the gardens, but there were quite a few more monarchs in the dunes.  It wasn't a huge number, but an obvious increase on a day when no increase was expected.

We hoped that this increase might lead to a substantial overnight roost of monarchs, but temperatures were still quite warm and many seemed content to stay in the dunes amidst the goldenrod flowers.  Many of the traditional roost areas had just a few monarchs, but we did find about 40 in a pine near the base of the Whilldin Ave. dune crossover, photos below.

The weather forecast suggests good conditions for the arrival of more monarchs over the next few days.  We'll be out there watching and counting, and we'll let you know what we find.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sunday evening update

We did not see a significant arrival of monarchs into Cape May this afternoon, so after the departure of many monarchs this morning we're left with many fewer at Cape May Point.  We're happy that these butterflies are on their way, since it's a long way to Mexico!

We saw a report from a friend in New York who tagged many monarchs today, so there's reason to believe that many more are on their way.  We don't know when they'll arrive, but we do believe we'll have a few more big monarch days here at New Jersey's southern tip.  We'll be sure to let you know whenever the numbers are increasing.

We'll keep watching through October.  The field season for the CMBO Monarch Monitoring Project runs from Sept. 1 through Oct. 31, with time for data entry and analysis after that.  Our Field Naturalists, show below, will keep counting, tagging, and educating right up to the end of the month.

Katie Burns (left) and Lindsey Brendel tagging monarchs.

Departure day

Monarchs were busy feeding on seaside goldenrod early this morning, and by mid-morning many were heading out across Delaware Bay to continue their southbound migrations.  Monarch numbers were down considerably by midday.  The winds are very favorable for monarch migration today, which is why many departed, but it's possible that these winds will bring a new batch of monarchs into Cape May.  We'll report back this evening to let you know if this has happened.

Monarch feeds on seaside goldenrod.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Friday evening update

We enjoyed another day with lots of monarchs in Cape May Point, with many of those monarchs now sporting new tags.  We also had a great day of educational outreach, with 40 people coming to our casual 11 am drop-in program at the Triangle Garden and more than 80 at our 2 pm tagging demo, including two outstanding school groups.  The 11 am programs continue every day through Oct. 18, but we have just 3 more scheduled tagging demos, Oct. 10, 11, and 17.  If monarch numbers continue to be good, however, we will add some impromptu extra programs.

There's a cold front with rain showers passing through Cape May right now (late Friday evening), and tomorrow we expect northerly winds and a high temperature just in the lower 60s.  Our best guess is that the weekend will continue to see many monarchs around Cape May Point, but that's just a guess, the insects sometimes fool us.  All we can do is plan to get up early and head out there to check, and that's exactly what our team will do.  Stay tuned for a status update on Saturday.

Friday morning update

It's another great day for monarchs in Cape May Point, and a great day for teaching about monarchs.  No more time to expand on that, we've got to get back out there.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Thursday evening update

It was a terrific day for monarch migration through Cape May Point.  Very good numbers were seen moving along the dunes, nectaring on seaside goldenrod along the dunes, and gathered up in the gardens around town.  As evening approached it seemed that numbers had dropped a bit.  I ran into a visitor at Cape May Point who had come across Delaware Bay on the ferry in the afternoon, who told me that many monarchs were in view from the ferry, flying across the Bay to Delaware and thence to points south.

The winds were gentle today, ideal for the monarchs to make the flight to Delaware.  We find ourselves hoping for a great spectacle of monarchs in Cape May, but if we really care about these butterflies we should be happy for days like this when they can make the perilous crossing of Delaware Bay successfully.

There were still plenty of monarchs around Cape May Point late in the afternoon, so it should be a good morning for seeing monarchs tomorrow.  Beyond that we can't predict -- maybe most will be heading south to Delaware, and maybe more will be arriving from points north.  If we see another major influx we'll try to post an update promptly.

We did search for roosting monarchs around Cape May Point this evening, without success.  We found a number of locations where monarchs were settling into the trees as sunset approached, but they were scattered and not clustering together at any of the locations we checked.  We'll keep checking every evening.

They're coming!

Monarchs gathering at the Triangle Park.

The last few days have seen gradual increases of monarch numbers, but this morning seems to be bringing the biggest numbers of monarchs of the year thus far.  There were 48 monarchs counted on the 9:00 am census and 84 at 12:00 noon.  The seaside goldenrod is blooming along the dunes, and many monarchs are being seen here, but there are also plenty of monarchs in the gardens of Cape May Point and flying overhead.  We don't know if the numbers will continue to grow this afternoon and over the next few days, but we are certainly enjoying today's show.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Monday Update

The winds are subsiding and monarchs are on the wing again in Cape May Point. Not huge numbers today, but encouraging to see monarchs engaged in normal feeding behavior again after 4 consecutive days with 25 to 40 mph winds. The weather forecast for Tuesday calls for NNW winds at 8 mph, ideal conditions for monarch migration. We're hoping enough monarchs weathered the recent storms to bring a big migration into Cape May over the next few days. We'll let you know if that happens.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Sorry we asked!

Last Saturday's blog post was titled, "Can someone change the wind, please?"  I guess we should have been more specific.  The wind has changed, indeed, but not in the way we might have liked.  Sustained winds of 30 mph or more are now predicted for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  That's a big change from last week!  The direction?  Well, that hasn't changed -- north-northeast for Friday, straight northeast for Saturday and Sunday.  There's of rain in the forecast for Friday and Saturday.  Monday's northeast winds are predicted to be "only" 25 mph.

As you might guess, these are not good conditions for monarch butterflies.  We expect a very slow weekend, monarch-wise.  We'll still be out there counting, whatever the weather (census counts of zero are still important data points).  While our 11 am drop-in programs at the Triangle Park are cancelled when it's raining, we'll still have our 2 pm tagging demos at Cape May Point State Park on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  We might not have any monarchs to tag, but at least we can tell the story of monarch migration.

At least it looks like Hurricane Joaquin will pass well to our east and spare our little seaside town from the trauma of a hurricane strike.  Hurricanes are notoriously unpredictable, however, so keep paying attention to the forecasts and weather conditions if you're considering a visit to Cape May.

Long-range forecasts are never terribly reliable, but at this time the meteorologists are calling for a long-awaited return to relatively gentle northwest winds next Tuesday and Wednesday.  If the forecast holds, these could be good days for the migration of birds and monarch butterflies into Cape May.  We'll report back in a few days with any updates to the forecast.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tuesday update

Monarch numbers around Cape May Point have remained fairly steady, as expected with the continuing east and northeasterly winds.  The forecast is now calling for several rainy days later this week, some mixed with strong winds, and the possibility of very heavy winds if tropical storm Joaquin decides to visit.  The long-range forecast looks good for an influx of monarchs next week; we'll cross our fingers and keep watching the forecasts.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Can someone change the wind, please?

We've been stuck in an unusual wind pattern for almost a week now, with winds blowing from the northeast or the east.  Not the wind direction that brings migrants into Cape May, so it's been slow for monarchs, slow for dragonflies, slow for songbirds, slow for raptors.  Typically in the autumn we see frequent cold fronts, with winds blowing from the north or from the northwest, and those winds generally deliver lots of migrants into Cape May.

Two days ago we reported that a change of wind direction was forecast for next Tuesday and Wednesday.  They've changed the forecast now, and here are the predicted wind directions for the next TEN days:

Today: ENE
Tomorrow: ENE
Monday: E
Tuesday: NNE
Wednesday: NNE
Thursday: NE
Friday: NE
Saturday: NE
Sunday: NE
Monday: NE

More than a little discouraging for those of us hoping to see big numbers of migrants.  The good news is that the long range forecast often changes.  We'll hope that the weather pattern changes sooner than is currently predicted.

In the meantime, we'll still be out there counting monarchs, tagging monarchs, and presenting educational talks.  There should still be some monarchs around every day, we're at the very peak of the migratory season.  These tenacious little butterflies fool us sometimes, too, and perhaps we'll see a significant influx on the northeast winds.  But more likely it will be a slow stretch of the migration until the wind direction changes.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Thursday update

Moderately strong northeast winds blew into Cape May on Tuesday and Wednesday, strong enough to keep most monarchs from crossing Delaware Bay.  Numbers remained steady, with most butterflies staying low and in sheltered areas, out of the wind.  These were good days to visit the gardens around Cape May Point.

Female monarch gathers nectar from a tiny English ivy
flower. This ivy vine grows amidst a sheltered grove
of trees at Cape May Point.
By Thursday morning the winds had diminished, though they still blew gently from the northeast.  Monarchs don't like to cross the Bay in strong winds, but it seems that many departed for Delaware with the morning's gentle winds.  A few monarchs may have arrived, but the numbers of monarchs in Cape May were down considerably by day's end.

The meteorologists are predicting northeast or east winds for the next four days.  These are not winds the usually bring many monarchs into Cape May, so we're expecting a bit of a lull in the migration.  If you're coming to Cape May, don't despair, there will still be monarchs around the Point, and probably in numbers greater than you'll find in most other locales.  But we don't expect the next surge of migrating monarch to arrive until the wind switches back around to the northwest.  The current forecast calls for northwest winds next Tuesday and Wednesday.  Let's hope the forecast holds.  This is prime time for monarch migration, there are many more that we're sure to see traveling through Cape May Point during the next four weeks.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Monday update

Steady winds from 10 to 20 mph blew from the northeast all day today.  In these winds the monarchs didn't fly around much.  There are still good numbers of monarchs around Cape May Point, but you might not have noticed them if you didn't look carefully into the gardens around the Point, where the monarchs were busy feeding on flowers and resting in sheltered areas.  Tomorrow's forecast is for more of the same, so we expect the monarch activity to be much as it was today.

A Few FAQs

Members of our CMBO - Monarch Monitoring Project team are always eager to share information about monarch biology and answer questions that come to us in person and via e-mail.  There are a few questions that we receive frequently, so we are sharing those questions and the answers in today's blog post.  We may come back with more FAQs in a week or two.

When is the best time to see the most monarchs in Cape May Point?

Oh, how we wish we could predict this!  We'd have the biggest monarch party you can imagine if we knew when the biggest flights would happen.  But we can't know.  It's partly dependent on the weather -- autumn cold fronts that bring northwest winds typically deliver lots of monarchs and migrating birds into Cape May -- but some cold fronts bring more than others.  All we can say is that most years most monarchs come between Sept. 10 and Oct. 20.  During that period there are usually 4 to 6 distinct peaks in monarch numbers with lulls in between.  The longer you stay, the better your chances to see a major monarch movement.  But come any day during that period and there are probably going to be a lot of monarchs around.

Where are the monarchs roosting?

We usually don't know, and believe me, we want to know.  When there are a lot of monarchs around Cape May Point, especially when it's getting chilly at night, monarchs often cluster together overnight.  We spend a lot of time wandering around Cape May Point during the late afternoon, and so far this year we haven't found any big roosts.  We know a lot of places where they have roosted in previous years, and we check those spots, but the monarchs frequently fool us.  We need your help!  If you're in Cape May Point and see big roosts of monarchs, please let us know!  The simplest way is to just call the CMBO Northwood Center at (609) 884-2736, but you can also send an e-mail message to the CMBO Monarch Monitoring Project via

Can I bring monarchs to you for tagging or ship them to you from further north to help them on their migrations?

We hear this fairly often and the answer is an emphatic NO!  Monarchs have evolved to migrate from all over the eastern ⅔ of the US and from southern Canada down to the overwintering areas in Mexico.  Leave them where you find them!  They instinctively know how to migrate.  Bringing them to Cape May might not be that much of a favor, as the Delaware Bay crossing is potentially quite hazardous to monarchs.  Many migrating from areas to our north might otherwise travel west of Delaware Bay and avoid the long water crossing altogether.  Trust that monarchs know how to migrate.  And we don't need extra monarchs brought to us for tagging purposes, we have plenty that find their way to Cape May Point, thank you.

I want to tag monarchs, can you give me some tags?

No, sorry.  We don't make the tags, we buy them, and we buy only as many as we think our staff and volunteers will use (that's Julia Druce, 2012 Field Naturalist, with a tagged monarch at left).  If you want to tag monarchs, you can order tags from Monarch Watch at

Can we help you tag monarchs at Cape May Point?

We have an experienced team tagging monarchs in Cape May Point, and we don't need more help here, but we do need help tagging monarchs in other parts of Cape May County, north of the Cape May Canal, as part of our new Monarch Ambassador program.  Our trainings are finished for 2015, but we will hold more Monarch Ambassador trainings in August and September of 2016.  Come to one of the training sessions and then help expand our understanding of monarch migration through the entire Cape May peninsula by counting and tagging monarchs at locations such as Villas, Stone Harbor, Strathmere, Reeds Beach, and in southeastern Cumberland County.  And we do provide a limited number of tags to those who volunteer as Monarch Ambassadors.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Visit us at Cape May Point

We are moving into the heart of the monarch season at Cape May Point.  While monarch numbers are down a bit on Saturday, as expected with the unseasonably warm weather and southerly breezes, we expect many more monarchs to migrate through Cape May during the next month.

Our public programming is now if full swing.  Our second tagging demo of the year was held of Friday, when about 40 visitors listened as we told the story of monarch biology and migration.  Then they watched as our seasonal field naturalists Lindsey Brendel and Katie Burns tagged and released several monarchs.

MMP Director and Founder Dick Walton addresses the audience.
Tagging demos are held on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 2:00 pm at Cape May Point State Park.  Find our team at the East Shelter, the covered picnic pavilion adjacent to the hawk watch platform.  No reservations are needed and there is no charge for this program, though contributions are accepted.  Tagging demos will continue on Wednesdays through October 7, Fridays through October 9, Saturdays through October 17, and Sundays through October 11.

You can also visit with members of the Monarch Monitoring Project any day through October 18 at 11:00 am at Cape May Point's Triangle Park, located at the junction of Lighthouse and Coral Avenues.  There's no fee for this program.  We do cancel when there is heavy rain.

Field Naturalists Katie Burns (left) and Lindsey Brendel (right)
discuss the monarch life cycle.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Thursday midday update

Much to our surprise the winds were blowing gently from the northwest at Cape May Point this morning, and monarch continued to move through Cape May Point in larger numbers than we expected.  We saw monarchs coming into Cape May and others heading out across Delaware Bay en route to Delaware.  There are still good numbers of monarchs at the Point, not just in the gardens but also moving along the beach and above the vegetated dunes.

Female monarch at the Coral Ave. dune crossing.

By midday the winds had shifted, blowing from the southwest, a direction that usually stops the migration temporarily.  But the winds are still very gentle.  We should know better than to predict what's going to happen next.  Last night we predicted that monarch numbers would decline over the next few days, and that's still our best guess, but we were wrong about that this morning and we could certainly be wrong tomorrow and the next day.  Whatever happens, we promise to report back regularly.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Here today, gone tomorrow?

Wednesday was the third straight day with winds from the NW, the ideal wind direction for monarch migration through Cape May.  The winds did their job, bringing the first wave of southbound migrants into Cape May Point.  A few arrived on Monday, more came in yesterday, and by this morning we had monarchs all over the Point.  Not really big numbers, as we're hoping to see later this fall, but every garden seemed to have 5 or 10 monarchs at any given time.  Our team tagged more than 100 today, mostly in the morning.  The wind was gentle all day today, and it shifted to the northeast by afternoon, ideal conditions for monarch to cross Delaware Bay and continue their southbound movements.  It seemed many must have done just that; there seemed to be fewer monarch around by afternoon, and our census numbers confirmed that.

Migrating monarch are generally very bright and fresh-looking.

Winds are predicted to blow from the southwest tomorrow, then from the southeast for the next two days.  We don't expect to see many new monarch arrivals over the next three days, and more will probably be drifting away from the Point.  We will, however, add a word of caution to the prediction: the monarchs sometimes fool us, the weather sometimes fools the weather forecasters, so we really are just guessing about what's going to happen next.

While we're guessing that the next few days won't reward us with big numbers of migrating monarchs, we still encourage our readers to come visit us at Cape May Point.  The flower-filled gardens of Cape May Point are attracting many butterflies.  It's shaping up to be a good fall for southern butterflies that disperse northward at this season.  At least the Ocola Skippers were visiting one private garden in the Point today, and we're also seeing Fiery Skippers, Cloudless Sulphurs, and Long-tailed Skippers.  You'll still see some monarchs -- we'll have some around every day for at least the next five weeks -- and there are still monarch caterpillars chowing down on milkweed, both in the gardens and in the displays that our team maintains at the Cape May Bird Observatory Northwood Center and at the Nature Center of Cape May.

Two monarch caterpillars feeding on the same leaf - an unusual sight.

Private garden in Cape May Point.
Ocola Skipper - note the long forewings jutting well
beyond the hind wings when this skipper is at rest.
You can visit with the CMBO Monarch Monitoring Project team any day (through October 18) by visiting the Triangle Park in Cape May Point at 11:00 am.  Triangle Park is located at the junction of Lighthouse and Coral Avenues.  We also have tagging demos coming up on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays at 2 pm for the next few weeks beginning this Friday, Sept. 18.  The demos are held at the East Shelter in Cape May Point State Park, which is the covered picnic pavilion adjacent to the hawk watch platform.  Our programs are free, though we are happy to accept donations (and we have some little "thank you" gifts for those who choose to donate to our project).

Question of the Week: Why Are Monarch Caterpillars Eating my Parsley?

A few people have approached us this week with questions about the little critters that they observe in their gardens, most notably the fat, green caterpillars that can be found munching on plants in the carrot family, such as parsley. Many people have mistaken these crawlers for their cousin, the monarch, while in actuality they have been observing black swallowtail larvae.

A black swallowtail caterpillar on parsley

Some distinguishing features of monarch caterpillars are the black, yellow and white stripes, and two sets of black tentacles on the thorax and abdomen. Black swallowtail caterpillars are green and black with yellow spots. They also have an orange, forked gland called an osmeterium that will emerge when the caterpillar is feeling threatened.

A monarch caterpillar on milkweed

Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed, which is why milkweed availability is so important to monarch population health. We frequently recommend that people plant milkweed in their gardens, in addition to other nectar-rich “butterfly-friendly” flowers, which provide crucial food sources for adult butterflies. These flowers include aster, seaside goldenrod, and zinnia. 

An adult monarch (left) and black swallowtail (right)

In many pollinator-friendly gardens, gardeners will plant two sets of parsley (one for the caterpillars, and one for the cupboard), in addition to milkweed to encourage a greater diversity of winged visitors. Both of these caterpillars metamorphose into glorious butterflies who are essential pollinators which will make your flowers bloom brightly. Consider both species welcome guests in your garden!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Numbers Continue to Grow

Monarch numbers continue to increase: 32 counted on the 3 pm census today.  We're definitely seeing the greatest number of monarchs of 2015 thus far.  With luck the numbers will continue to grow tomorrow.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Noticeable Migration Today

There was a noticeable influx of monarchs into Cape May Point this afternoon. Not so many for us to urge everyone to race on down to see it, but enough to get our crew excited. Most of the monarchs we saw today were bright and fresh, the ones that are headed to Mexico. Gentle northwest winds are predicted for tomorrow, a perfect forecast for bringing more monarchs into Cape May. How many will arrive? I wish there was a way to predict. But there isn't, so we'll just have to let you know tomorrow.

Meanwhile, our program season is now underway.  Attendance was low at last Saturday's first tagging demo since a heavy rainstorm was happening, but our first two 11 am "drop-in" sessions at the Triangle Park were both well attended.  If you come visit Cape May this fall we hope you'll come visit our staff at one of our events.