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.

Monday, August 31, 2015

End of the Off-Season

Female monarch laying eggs on swamp milkweed leaf.

The Monarch Monitoring Project field season lasts two months, running Sept. 1 through Oct. 31.  We start up tomorrow morning, with the year's first census conducted at 9:00 am.  The 10-month off-season officially ends tonight.  Of course there are a few tasks that we undertake during the off-season.  We make plans for new projects, such as the Monarch Ambassador trainings and the pilot studies we'll soon begin at Stone Harbor Point, East Point, and perhaps other locales.  We get all of our project materials together and purchase needed supplies.  We interview and hire the seasonal staff.  We work on fundraising.  It's all in preparation for the field season, so we're awfully excited when September 1 finally rolls around.

The monarch butterflies aren't resting during the off-season, either.  Four or five generations pass each year, so monarchs have been busy being monarchs -- being tiny eggs hatching after just a few days, being hungry caterpillars gobbling down masses of milkweed leaves, being jewel-like chrysalides as amazing transformations take place inside, and being adult monarch butterflies.  Each of the spring and summer generations of adult monarchs have behaved the same way, dispersing around the continent, mating, and in the case of females, laying eggs on the leaves of milkweeds.  I photographed the one shown here at Cape May Point State Park today as she laid eggs on the leaves of swamp milkweed plants along the park's Red Trail.

It's not hard to find monarchs around Cape May right now, but most are still not acting like migrants. Males are patrolling territories, especially around milkweed patches, in search of females.  Females are laying eggs.  Most of the monarchs we're seeing are somewhat faded and even a little tattered.  This is the end of the year's last non-migratory generation.  I saw two monarchs today that looked like they were on the move.  At this season we alway have a mix of the last of the non-migrants and the first of the migrants.  Right now it seems like we have more of the former than in many other years on August 31.  Soon this will change and we'll start to see lots of migrants moving to, and through, Cape May.  Whether the first big push of migrants comes in a day or a week or in two weeks, we'll be here watching and we'll be sure to let you know.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

2015 Preseason Musings and News

2015 - Preseason Musings and News
Dick Walton, MMP Founder and Director

This season is shaping up to be an important one for the Monarch Monitoring Project. On November 1, 2015 Mark Garland will become the new director of the MMP. Those of you familiar with our work will know that Mark has been an integral part of MMP for a number of years. In 2011 Mark joined Louise Zemaitis and myself on MMP’s permanent staff. Previously Mark worked as an MMP volunteer although his work with monarchs dates to the mid-1990s when he founded the Cape  Charles (Virginia) monarch migration project. Among his important MMP accomplishments are the Monarchists, (a team competing in the annual World Series of Birding) whose efforts have become a major fund raising effort for MMP, as well as his coordination of our “Monarch Demos,” workshops at which MMP staff, interns, and volunteers share information on monarch biology and conservation and demonstrate monarch tagging to hundreds of visitors each season. See link at bottom to find out more about Mark’s remarkable career as a naturalist. Both Louise and I are enthusiastically looking forward to Mark Garland taking the helm and are confident of MMP's continuing success under his leadership.

Additional important preseason news is that Linsey Brendel and Katherine Burns will join the MMP as our field technicians for the 2015 season. Of course many of you know Lindsey from last year (she just can’t get enough of monarchs and Cape May). Lindsey’s infectious enthusiasm for telling the monarch’s story and her experience with all phases of our work are most welcome. We are also delighted by the prospect of Katie Burns joining team monarch. Katie is a recent graduate of Wheaton College with a BA in Environmental Sciences. In addition to numerous academic honors she served as captain of the Wheaton College Ultimate Frisbee Team (although the last is not an official prerequisite for MMP applicants she may well have an opportunity to make use of this skill in Cape May this fall). Katie has done field work focusing on insects and pollination and has experience working with endangered shorebirds. We welcome Katie and know her enthusiasm and talents will strengthen the MMP 2015 effort.

Finally we would like to acknowledge the contributions of the numerous contributors and supporters of the Monarch Monitoring Project. Our work certainly would not be possible without your hard work, encouragement, and yes, your dollars. Louise, Mark, Lindsey, Katie, and I invite each of you to join us in Cape May this fall.

See you at The Point!

Mark Garland's website:

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Field Season Begins Next Week

Next Tuesday, September 1, 2015, marks the beginning of the new field season for the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project.  We'll conduct our driving census of monarchs three times that day, and the census will be conducted every day through October 31.  We will also tag monarchs and conduct a variety of public education and outreach programs.  Our team includes perennial MMP staffers Dick Walton, Louise Zemaitis, and Mark Garland.  Lindsey Brendel returns for a second year as one of our seasonal technicians.  She will be joined by Katie Burns, from coastal Maine, who has been working with bees in California this summer.

Additionally we are also helped by enthusiastic volunteers.  This year we're testing new ideas for studies of monarch migration in South Jersey areas to the north of Cape May.  As noted in the previous post, a series of volunteer training events are planned, and the "Monarch Ambassadors" that we train will be asked to conduct these pilot studies for us.

We're happy to report that the August population of monarchs in Cape May seems pretty good.  A few may be early migrants, but most are behaving like the year's penultimate generation, those whose offspring will migrate to Mexico.  That's clearly the case for the mating pair shown above, who were photographed this afternoon in a West Cape May back yard.  Migrating monarchs have their mating urge delayed until after their long period of winter dormancy in Mexico.

What does this mean for the upcoming migration?  We know better than to make a prediction.  We're always optimistic, but only when the season is over will we have data that will define the season.

Speaking of predictions, we're frequently asked, "When will be the best time to see the monarchs in Cape May this year?"  I wish we knew the answer!  There are usually several peaks between about the 10th of September and the 20th of October, and often the biggest numbers come after the passage of cold fronts, when northwest winds push monarchs into Cape May, but there is absolutely no way to guess which days will see many monarchs and which will see few.  One thing we can predict: as the season progresses we will faithfully report on the monarch numbers in Cape May in this blog and on the project's FaceBook page, Cape May Monarchs.  Please plan to visit Cape May Point at least once during the next two months.  We'll be posting the schedule of our public programs early in September.