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.

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.