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, September 10, 2015

Change is Coming

We're ten days into the field season for the Cape May Bird Observatory's Monarch Monitoring Project, and you may have noticed that there has been a sameness to many of our reports.  We continue to report seeing a modest number of monarchs around Cape May Point, and we continue to report that most are still members of the year's penultimate generation, the ones whose offspring will undertake the long migration to Mexico.

How do we know this?  Monarchs of the year's final generation, the ones that will migrate to Mexico, have their mating urge suppressed until after the period of winter dormancy.  We are seeing females laying eggs, catching females whose abdomens are holding eggs, ready to lay.  We are watching males aggressively patrolling flower patches in search of females, chasing away other males that come by.  We are seeing pairs actively mating.  All of these courtship and mating behaviors tell us that these monarchs aren't Mexico-bound.

There is other evidence, too.  The monarch shown at left, bearing tag UML 000, was tagged on August 30 at the Triangle Park in Cape May Point.  This male monarch has been spotted at the same location many times; the photo at left was taken on Sept. 7th.  We would have expected a migrating monarch to depart from Cape May after just a few days.  Additionally, look at all the wear on the wings of UML 000.  A big chunk is missing from the trailing edge of the right hind wing, and the entire wing surface looks faded and scratched.  Most Mexico-bound monarchs look much fresher and brighter.

We've been reporting the same situation for days because the weather hasn't really changed. The first part of September has seen monotonous weather - hot and humid with winds from the southwest, south, or east, winds that don't motivate monarchs to migrate.  We're please to report that change is coming.  Lots of rain today heralded the arrival of a cold front, and tomorrow's forecast is for comfortable temperatures and winds out of the northwest.  We've learned that predictions are dangerous, the monarchs often fool us, but we're guessing that migrating monarchs will start to arrive in Cape May tomorrow thanks to these northwest winds.

One reason that we're hoping that more monarchs will arrive is because our educational programs for 2015 begin this weekend.  Our first tagging demo will be held at 2:00 pm on Saturday, Sept. 12.  Meet members of the monarch team in Cape May Point State Park at the East Shelter, the covered picnic pavilion right next to the big hawk watch platform.  The program lasts between 30 and 60 minutes, depending on the number of monarchs available for tagging.  There's no cost for the program, though contributions to the Monarch Monitoring Project will be accepted.

A brand new program begins this Sunday, one that we're hoping will be popular among visiting monarch enthusiasts.  Any day from September 13 through October 18 you can drop in to visit with members of the monarch team at 11:00 am at the Triangle Park (shown in the photo at right), located at the junction of Lighthouse and Coral Avenues in Cape May Point.  Chat with our research team as they catch and tag monarchs, perform garden maintenance, or undertake other project tasks.  No reservations or cost, just stop by to visit and learn about monarch biology and migration.

The next several days all look promising for the monarch migration.  While we can't promise a lot of monarchs this weekend, we're hoping for good numbers.  We can promise to report back frequently and let our readers know what's happening with the migration.

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