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, November 2, 2016

November Surprise!

Our field season runs from Sept 1 through Oct. 31, and by the end of that period the monarch migration is usually over.  Monarchs begin to arrive on the winter grounds around the end of October, and that's the case this year (see here).  In early November we're usually compiling the data, cleaning out the gardens, and putting away the nets and other project equipment.

This year, however, November 2 brought unseasonably warm weather into Cape May.  The temperature approached 70 degrees, winds were gentle and the sun shined brightly.  And monarchs were seen all around Cape May Point.

Monarch in Cape May Point's Triangle Park.
Field Naturalist Intern Lindsey Brendel discovered the surprising influx at mid-morning, and by midday MMP Director Mark Garland joined her in the field.  Mark tagged 29, and Lindsey worked most of the day and tagged 126.  It's generally thought that monarchs seen in Cape May this late in the season won't make it to Mexico, but we don't really know.  As long as they stay ahead of freezing weather they've got a chance.  We'll learn a lot if one (or more) of these monarchs is found in Mexico or somewhere along the migratory route.

Monarch tagged today in Bill Schuhl's garden.
Monarchs weren't the only butterflies around Cape May Point today, we also observed American Ladies, Cloudless Sulphurs, Orange Sulphurs, Variegated Fritillaries, Red Admirals, Question Marks, Ocola Skippers, Sachems, and perhaps a few others.  Thursday's forecast calls for a warm, sunny morning followed by showers and the arrival of a cold front.  The morning is likely to be excellent for monarchs and other butterflies, and the cold front coming later in the day may signal the end of this surprising late butterfly bonanza.

Pristine Monarch nectaring on lantana in the Triangle Park.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

End of Season

   It's hard to believe that the MMP 2016 season is about to come to a close. From my first day as a seasonal naturalist when I only tagged a few monarchs, to the 24th of October when I tagged over one hundred, it has been a delight to be part of this important project.The numbers of monarchs may not have been huge this season, but the enthusiasm and interest of our hundreds of visitors was. Some came to see the the monarchs to mark a special birthday or anniversary. Others were moved to tears as they released this enchanting butterfly at our demos at the Cape May Point State Park. The students that we spoke to from the Middle Township School,  West Cape May Elementary School, and Wildwood School were all very interested in this charismatic butterfly. The small, more intimate gatherings at Triangle Park gave me a chance to engage visitors in a relaxed and beautiful setting, and let them witness netting and tagging, Noteworthy moments included finding out who was to be the recipient of the monarch they were adopting. For many, it was a grandchild, for others, their siblings, or in honor of a relative or friend.  It was a treat for them to "adopt" the monarch that they saw me tag.  (Inquire about supporting our project through adoptions at 
     An early article about the MMP in the Atlantic City Press started off our season. Our skilled leaders, Louise Zematis and Mark Garland, were on hand for the interview. Mid-season, Lindsey Brendel, our other seasonal naturalist for the MMP, spoke to a local radio station about the monarch life cycle and conservation issues.      Our project received much interest and help from our many volunteers. Also, Dick Walton, our project founder, was on hand for several weeks as well. A highlight of my time here was meeting the warm, friendly, and generous people of Cape May. I learned so much from everyone here. Being welcome into the gardens of neighborhood people who provide rich habitat for monarch caterpillars and butterflies allowed us to conduct our research and see first-hand what a difference these gardens make. I would encourage you to provide a Monarch Waystation by having a garden with common milkweed, swamp milkweed, or butterfly weed and nectar sources which will also serve to make your garden colorful and appealing. (See on how to certify your garden and get a cool sign! ) 
Diane Tassey is a natural teacher.  Here she explains
monarch migration at one of our tagging demos.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Late surge of monarchs

Monarch numbers were good last week, but extreme winds kept most hunkered down over the weekend.  Strong northwest winds continued on Monday, and a noticeable increase of monarchs occurred.  Observations were made at Cape May Point, at the Avalon Seawatch, and at Stone Harbor Point.  Tuesday's weather forecast is very promising; if weather like this had come two or three weeks ago we would have predicted a very large flight of monarchs.  It's late in the season, so we don't expect a huge flight, but we do expect the numbers to increase over the next day or two.  We'll be out there watching, and at the very least we know there will be excellent flights of migratory birds occurring.

Here are a few photos from Monday.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Last tagging demos

It's been a week of steady monarch migration through Cape May, and our team has accomplished a lot of tagging.  The seaside goldenrod is at peak bloom along the dunes at Cape May Point, but surprisingly we haven't seen many monarchs here.  We've watched them taking off over Delaware Bay and heading to Mexico, but most of the nectaring monarchs have been seen in the local gardens.  Friday's forecast suggests another good day for seeing monarchs at Cape May Point, but high winds are predicted for the weekend, and those are not good conditions for monarch viewing.

Male monarch at a private garden in Cape May Point.
Our education programs are wrapping up for the year.  Last Sunday we held the year's final tagging demo at Cape May Point State Park.  We are grateful for the hundreds of visitors who attended these programs.  On Wednesday we held our final Triangle Park drop-in program for 2016.  This weekend, both Saturday and Sunday, we'll offer short tagging demos at noon at the Cape May Convention Hall, part of the New Jersey Audubon Society's autumn festival, details here: NJA Fall Festival.

Our field studies continue until October 31, so if you're around Cape May Point watch for members of our team.  We're usually the only ones carrying butterfly nets.  We're always happy to greet visitors and talk about monarch butterflies.

Project volunteer Paige Cunningham tags a monarch at last Sunday's demo.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Monarch numbers in Cape May Point have been steady for the last week or so, and we saw a modest increase yesterday.  While there's no great spectacle, there have been enough monarchs to keep our taggers busy.  Conditions look good for Thursday and Friday, and we're hoping that we will finally see a significant surge of migrant monarchs arriving into Cape May.  A big cold front is predicted to arrive for the weekend, however, with winds predicted to be from 20 to 40 mph, and those aren't good winds for monarchs.  Whatever the weather, we'll be continuing our censuses every day through October 31.

It's a great time of year to visit Cape May Point.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Will change in weather bring monarchs?

We had another heavy rain in Cape May over the weekend, but the rain cleared out on Sunday afternoon, pushed out by the autumn's first major cold front.  Gusty northwest winds triggered a major hawk flight, with hundreds of falcons passing over the Point on Sunday afternoon and a staggering tally of over 3,000 raptors counted on Monday.  Northwest winds are often the best for monarch migration too, but the winds were a bit too strong for a major butterfly migration event.

Tuesday is starting out clear and cool, with winds switching around to the northeast.  Could this be the day for a major influx of monarchs into Cape May?  It's certainly possible.  One of our volunteers reported a noticeable increase in monarchs yesterday at Ocean City, NJ, about 25 miles to our north.  Our team will be out watching today, and we'll report back promptly if monarch numbers increase significantly.

A small but very enthusiastic group showed up for Sunday's
tagging demo on a cold, wet, windy day.

Saturday, October 8, 2016


We saw a few more monarchs around Cape May during the first week of October, but the easterly winds that have dominated this autumn have continued, and the total monarch numbers remain low.  We're hoping that the east winds have pushed many migrating monarchs to the west side of Delaware Bay.  We hear encouraging reports about the numbers of monarchs being seen in Pennsylvania and further south, including reports from the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Monarchs will continue to migrate throughout the month of October, so we still have chances to experience a few big butterfly days.

Naturalists Lindsey Brendel and Diane
Tassey at one of our tagging demos.
Field Coordinator Louise Zemaitis meets with enthusiastic
students at a recent tagging demo.

While our counts are low, attendance at our various programs remains high.  Our tagging demos continue on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through October 16.  Meet our team at 2:00 pm for one of these talks, which are held at Cape May Point State Park's East Picnic Shelter.  Our informal drop-in programs at the Triangle Park continue through October 19, daily at 11:00 am.

Monday, October 3, 2016

A good Sunday, recoveries, request to taggers

Sunday, Oct. 2 brought a good flight of monarchs into Cape May Point.  While far from spectacular, it was certainly encouraging, since the entire month of September was very slow.  The good flight continued through Monday morning.

We have recovered several monarchs in recent days that were not tagged by our team, two each from tag sequences WPJ and WRC.  From replies to our Facebook posts we know that WPJ 369 and WPJ 370 were released here in Cape May by Danielle Pla.  We would love to know who tagged WRC 508 and WRC 512, plus when and where they were tagged.  When we find several in the same sequence it's usually someone who has been tagging here in Cape May.  We don't mind others tagging here, but we would greatly appreciate knowing that you're working here, and it would help us to know the tag numbers that you've used here.  We try to keep track of the total number of monarchs tagged in Cape May each year, and it's likely we'll recapture some; it helps us to know the ones that are from nearby.  We also advise visiting taggers to stay out of private property unless you're given express permission to enter, including yards where our team has been granted permission.

Sometimes people who have raised monarchs inside will drive down to Cape May Point to release these butterflies, thinking that they're giving them a head start.  Unless you live nearby, please don't do this!  Your butterflies will have a greater chance of success if you release them in the same area where they spent their lives as caterpillars, even if it's considerably north of Cape May.  Additionally, we have been conducting daily censuses of the monarchs in Cape May Point for over 25 years, and the accuracy of our data is diminished if extra monarchs are delivered to this region.  Please, please, don't bring monarchs from elsewhere into Cape May.

Many thanks!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Another foreign recovery

Thanks to Cape May visitor Marian Quinn for sharing this information and photo.  Please contact us if you have any information about when and where this monarch, WRC 508, was tagged, and by whom.  Many thanks!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Update and another recovery

Week four of the 2016 field season concludes today and the season remains somewhat disappointing. Happily there was noticeable movement of monarchs this morning -- CMBO Migration Count Coordinator Tom Reed counted 700 flying past the hawk watch at Cape May Point State Park.  Unfortunately the weather forecast is calling for lots of wind and rain in the coming days, not good conditions for monarchs.  We're still hoping for a few good cold fronts to bring northwest winds and big numbers of migrating monarchs into Cape May.

Another monarch that had been tagged elsewhere showed up at Cape May Point today.  We will inform the Monarch Watch folks of this find, but as happened last week we're hoping to get a reply more quickly by sharing information about this recovery online.  If you tagged WPJ 369 be sure to let us know when and where it was tagged.

This previously tagged monarch was netted today by MMP Director
Mark Garland in a private garden at Cape May Point.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The little surge in monarchs that we witnessed this morning quickly ended, and the afternoon was very quiet, alas. We don't know if there will be many monarch tomorrow or just a few, but we'll be out there counting and searching, and if there's a noticeable change in monarch numbers we will let you know.
We did have the year's largest audience for our tagging demo this afternoon, with well over 100 in attendance. Demos continue every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through 10/16.

MMP Founder and Director Emeritus addresses the crowd
at today's tagging demo, held at Cape May Point State Park.

Saturday arrivals

A cool north wind is blowing and there are more monarchs around Cape May Point than were here a few hours ago. We don't know if this is just a small migration or the start of something bigger, but we'll let you know how it progresses.

Friday, September 23, 2016

General updates

Monarchs continue to trickle through Cape May, and we continue to wait for a change in the weather. We are still waiting for the first big cold front of the autumn to arrive, still waiting for the first surge of migrating monarchs.  In the meantime, here's a bit of what's been happening.

1. Monarch naturalist Lindsey Brendel appeared on local radio station WCFA, 101.5, on Friday morning, talking with the show hosts about the monarch migration.  We love attention from journalists, whether from the press or broadcast media.

2. Twelve enthusiastic participants joined MMP Director Mark Garland for the first ever full day CMBO Monarch Butterfly workshop on Thursday.

3. On Saturday morning (9/24) we will participate in the initial planting of a new butterfly garden near Sunset Beach in the southwest corner of the Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area.  Monarch enthusiasts are invited to come and help.  This garden is part of a grand landscaping plan relating to the development of the new Cape May Maritime Museum and Education Center, which will include the building of a replica 1876 lifesaving station at Sunset Beach.  We're look forward to seeing migratory monarch at his garden in the future, and to including the location on our educational and research activities.  Learn more about this exciting new project here:

4. Our regular education programs continue, with "drop-in" programs every morning at 11 am at Cape May Point's Triangle Park through Oct. 19; tagging demos at 2 pm every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Cape May Point State Park, and "Tank Talks" at the CMBO Northwood Center on the next two Fridays, Sept. 30 and Oct. 7.

Monarch Monitoring Project Naturalist Diane Tassey captivates the audience and one of our tagging demos.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

It Came From Canada!

In our last blog post we showed the photo, below, of monarch WAT 878, which our team netted at the Triangle Park in Cape May Point on Sept. 18.  We were thrilled to learn that this butterfly had been tagged in Canada!  We posted this photo on our FaceBook page and it was shared 53 times, and eventually seen by Kathy White, who posted this comment:

"I know that monarch! WAT 878 started his journey on August 15, 2016 from latitude 46.009184 longitude -66.832795 (Mouth of Keswick, NB, Canada), Waystation #6458. He was released along with 32 other monarchs who eclosed on the same day. Thanks Social Media."

So this monarch took its time, taking just over a month to reach here from a spot roughly 1030 kilometers (or 640 miles) away.

All of us who tag monarchs wonder if any that we tag will be found at some other place, some other time.  It's a bit like the proverbial message in a bottle.  Whenever one of ours is found, or when we find one from somewhere else, it's exciting and fulfilling.  Migrate on little butterfly, perhaps you'll be seen again in Mexico or somewhere else along the route.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

We found someone else's tagged monarch

It was a fairly slow weekend for Monarchs in Cape May, as hot dry weather continued and winds were generally from the south, the wrong direction from our point of view.  We see more Monarchs after a cold front passes and winds blow from the north or northwest.  We just haven't had those winds yet this year.  We've also experienced drought conditions; the photo below is taken from a bridge along the yellow trail at Cape May Point State Park, and the dry ditch in the photo is generally a water-filled channel.  I don't recall ever seeing this channel completely dry.

We did experience one highlight today.  At about 11 am, as our seasonal field naturalist Lindsey Brendel was preparing for our daily "drop-in" program at the Triangle Park, she netted the monarch below, which bears tag WAT 878.  This is not one of the tags issued to our program, so this butterfly was tagged by someone else.  We're eager to learn more about this monarch.  Sometimes other taggers visit Cape May and tag monarchs here, but tagging is conducted at many other locations.  We're hoping this one came from a distant location -- tag recoveries teach us a lot about the direction and speed of the monarch migration.

This Monarch was tagged on the right wing -- here in
Cape May we tag on the left side, so we knew right
away that someone else had tagged this one.

As we wait for the season's first big influx of Monarchs, we continue to enjoy some of the southern butterflies that have been drifting north in recent weeks.  One we haven't shown yet on the blog is the Ocola Skipper, shown below.  Note the very long forewing that juts out well beyond the hindwing on this resting skipper -- that's typical of butterflies in the genus Panoquina, which includes the Salt Marsh Skipper, which we regularly see during the Cape May summer.  The Ocola Skipper is bigger than the other eastern Panoquinas, and it's being found in Cape May gardens with increasing frequency in recent days.  Come visit us at Cape May Point and you might find Ocola Skippers in the gardens and, if you're really lucky, you might arrive with a major influx of Monarchs.  It's bound to happen sometime this season.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Programs Underway for 2016

Monarch numbers remain fairly modest around Cape May as we continue to wait for a good cold front to bring northwest winds and a major influx of migrating butterflies.  There are plenty of monarchs for our educational outreach programs however, which began yesterday with our first tagging demo.  We were delighted to speak to 81 people at the demo, and a very wide range of ages were represented within the audience.

Part of the audience for the year's first tagging demo, 9/14/16.

Our tagging demos begin with a talk for about ½ hour -- we discuss the monarch life cycle, trace their migrations, ponder conservation concerns, and describe the research and education objectives of our project.  As shown above, we share a lot of literature at the demos.  We then break into smaller groups and demonstrate how tags are applied to monarchs.  The coded tags help us learn about the speed and direction of monarch migration.

Field Naturalist Lindsey Brendel describes the monarch
life cycle to an enthusiastic audience.

Our tagging demos are held every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through October 16 at 2:00 pm.  No reservations are needed, just meet our team at the East Shelter at Cape May Point State Park, across the big parking lot from the Lighthouse.  There's no charge for the program, but donations are accepted.  We have several "thank you" gifts for donations, including monarch magnets, swamp milkweed seed packets, and the spectacular "Cape May Fall Flight" film on DVD.

Our first casual "drop-in" program was held this morning at 11:00 am.  We'll offer this informal program every day through October 19 at the Triangle Park, located at the junction of Lighthouse and Coral Avenues in Cape May Point.  Each day one or more members of our team will be at the park at 11:00, and visitors can see the team at work.  Often we'll be catching and tagging monarchs, and you can see the process close-up, but sometimes we'll be working on the garden or performing other tasks.  This program is cancelled if it's raining, as there is no shelter at the Triangle Park.  This program is also free and reservations are not taken, just drop in and visit for a few minutes.  Usually we only have a few visitors for this program -- today it was just three -- so it can be a great time to ask detailed questions and get a lot of personal attention from our team.  It's a short program, usually just 15 to 30 minutes.

The small but enthusiastic audience at today's Triangle Park drop-in program.

At the other extreme we have a full day study of monarchs scheduled as part of the Cape May Bird Observatory workshop program, to be held on Thursday, Sept. 22.  Spend the entire day with our project director Mark Garland and learn all about monarch biology and the activities of the Monarch Monitoring Project team.  You'll even learn how to tag monarchs.  Reservations are required for this program and a fee is charged; see the details and registration information here:

Mark Garland catches a monarch at the Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine.

We've got one more program to offer this year, and it's a new program we're trying just 3 times, on Fridays from Sept. 23 through Oct. 7.  It's called the "Monarch Tank Talk," beginning at 10:00 am at the Cape May Bird Observatory Northwood Center in Cape May Point, and it's designed to give visitors a look at the tanks where we keep monarch caterpillars and chrysalides on display, with tips on how to properly care for these creatures if you want to try rearing some yourself.  There's no charge for this program nor are registrations accepted, just show up at the Center.

Monarch chrysalis in the display tank at the CMBO Northwood Center.

We hope that many monarch enthusiasts will join us for our programs in Cape May Point this fall.  If you've got questions about any of the programs you can comment to this blog post or send us an e-mail at

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Help Us Watch For Tags

Winds blew from the southeast on Tuesday, switching to due south by evening, and those are wind directions that typically create a temporary halt to migration in Cape May.  There were still modest numbers of monarchs around Cape May Point, and our team has continued to tag some of these.  We take several data observations of monarchs that we are tagging, but the best information comes if someone spots a tagged monarch along its migration and reports the data back to Monarch Watch, the organization that coordinates tagging data, and/or directly back to us.

We encourage all monarch enthusiasts to be on the lookout for tagged monarchs.  Most reports of tagged monarchs we receive are from other taggers, but we get sight reports with increasing frequency.  It can be hard to read the code from a tag out in the field, even when using binoculars, but digital photography now allows many observers to snap a photo and read the code from that photo on the back of the camera or, if a lot of enlargement is needed, on the computer.

Tags are placed near the center of the ventral (bottom) side of a
monarch hind wing -- the side that is exposed on a resting monarch.
Here in Cape May we tag on the butterfly's left side.
If you're photographing a tagged monarch, here's a trick to make the tag easier to read -- shoot your photo with an exposure darker than the meter suggests.  In the photo above, taken on the camera's automatic setting, the pale tag is washed out and difficult to read.  For the photo below I switched from automatic to program mode and shot at a -1 setting.  The photo is dark but the tag is exposed properly and easy to read.

If you are able to read the tag, you'll see 4 lines.  The second line simply says, "Monarch Watch," in red letters.  Monarch Watch is the program, based at the University of Kansas, that distributes the tags and maintains a data base on all monarch tagging east of the Rocky Mountains.  The first line is an e-mail address,, and the third is a toll-free phone number, 1-888-TAGGING.  The last line is the most important -- this is a 3-letter, 3-number code that is unique to each tag.  The monarch in this photo bears code WHL 087.  Contact Monarch Watch to report a sighting of a tagged monarch, either with a message to the e-mail address or a call to the toll-free number.  Be sure to include the date, time, location, tag code, and your own contact information.

This year in Cape May County we are using tags with these letter codes: WHG, WHH, WHJ, WHL, WHM, and WHN.  If you see a tag with one of these letter codes (followed by any 3 numbers), we'd love to hear about it directly from you: send us an e-mail message at

This monarch seemed to know it was welcome at this garden,
registered as a "Monarch Waystation" by Monarch Watch.  For information or
to register your garden visit:
Gardens can be registered as Monarch Waystations if they provide
milkweed for monarch caterpillars and plenty of nectar plants for adults.
Meanwhile, the south winds that slow migration sometimes bring us southern butterflies that drift north on the breeze.  The Cloudless Sulphur, the large, yellow butterfly shown below, is especially abundant at Cape May Point this year.  You're sure to see some of these beauties if you visit us soon.

Some other southern butterflies are never abundant in Cape May, so they always generate a bit of excitement among naturalists.  The Long-tailed Skipper (below) is in this category, and we've seen a few in gardens around the Point in recent days.  If you find an unusual butterfly anywhere in Cape May County be sure to let us know.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Old and the New

We've been seeing an average number of monarchs for the first few weeks of September.  We're not prepared to make any predictions for how this season will stack up against previous years, that's always hard to do.  Every year at this season we see a mix of two generations, the migrants and the last pre-migratory generation.

 The migrating monarchs are typically very brightly colored and fresh-looking.  There may be some damage to the wings, like what's shown on the monarch above (left hind wing, near the body), but the overall condition is very good.  Behavior is an important clue, and the monarchs migrating to Mexico show no interest in courtship or mating, they're just feeding and moving.

 Compare that with the faded, worn monarch shown next.  This one is almost certainly a member of generation that's parenting the long distance migrants.  It's been around for a while, losing scales from the wing to produce a paler, worn appearance, and in the case of this butterfly, showing significant damage to the wings.  Monarchs from this generation are still actively courting and reproducing.  They've parented the many caterpillars that we're still seeing in the gardens around Cape May Point, such as the one below.

The bulk of the migrating monarchs have yet to arrive into Cape May Point, but it's still a terrific time to visit.  The gardens are filled with a variety of butterflies at this season.  One great place to visit is the Triangle Park, shown below, located at the junction of Lighthouse and Coral Avenues in Cape May Point.  Starting this Thursday, Sept. 15, we'll offer a free "drop-in" program at this park every day at 11:00 am through Oct. 19.  Come meet members of the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project team and learn about our research, the biology of monarch butterflies, and perhaps also find some of the other butterflies that are visiting the garden.

It's easy to find 10 or more species of butterflies in this garden and in the surrounding neighborhood right now.  Two are shown below.  What you may notice first, however, is a moth, not a butterfly.  Over the last few days we've witnessed a remarkable surge of soybean looper moths, apparently dispersing into Cape May Point from areas to the south.  These attractive little moths are abundant in every garden, it seems.  We don't know if they'll be around for another month, another week, or just another day, but we're happy to see them.  Cape May Point always provides surprises, and the onslaught of soybean loopers is just the latest.  We don't know what the next unexpected sighting will be, but if it relates to the monarch migration you can count on learning about it right here.

Soybean looper, currently abundant around Cape May Point.
Sachem, a bright little skipper that's always abundant
at Cape May Point in September.
This very fresh summer azure was in the Triangle Park today.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Early Season Update

Monarchs have been seen in fair numbers during the season's first ten days, getting nectar on joe-pye, sedum, Mexican sunflower and other nectar sources. Mexican sunflower is providing the monarch meal in this photo. Along with bees, monarchs are important pollinators. Recent winds have been from the southwest. Northwest winds will typically blow monarchs to the Cape May Point, and as the days become cooler, we anticipate larger numbers. A small cold front arrived this afternoon with a few hours of northwest winds, so perhaps numbers will be higher tomorrow.

Post written by 2016 Field Naturalist Intern Diane Tassey.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Day 1 for 2016

The first day of our field season is complete.  Not much to report, however, as the day was cloudy with rain off and on, enticing many monarchs to stay still and hidden. It was the first day of field work for Diane Tassey, our new Field Naturalist, and after observing the day's first two censuses she conducted her first census on her own at 3:00 pm today.  Here's Diane preparing to put the caution sign on here car prior to conducting that census.  She also tagged two monarchs today; there were more monarchs around, but for most of the day they were wet and we don't handle wet monarchs, they're too easily damaged.

Our morning was dominated by visit with a reporter and a photographer from the Press of Atlantic City, who hope to publish a story about our project in the newspaper next week.  They also promise to return later in the season when the migration is in full gear.

It was the first day for the Cape May Hawkwatch as well, and this year's hawk counter, Erik Bruhnke, brought splendid sartorial style to his post in celebration.

For the next two months Cape May Point will be a busy place for natural history research and education.  We will be counting, tagging, and teaching about monarch butterflies.  Our birding friends with the Cape May Bird Observatory, our parent organization, will be counting hawks, songbirds, shorebirds, and about anything else that's flying south.  We hope that many of you will join us south of the Cape May Canal, where (according to the creator of the sign posted on the Rt. 626 bridge over the canal) South Jersey begins.

Don't come to Cape May this weekend, however, without checking the weather reports.  Tropical storm Hermine has the potential to develop into a nasty hurricane that could have significant effects on Cape May.  We'll be watching carefully, hoping there's no need to evacuate.  We will post more when we know more.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Eve of the 2016 Season

The Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project (MMP) begins its 27th field season on September 1, 2016.  That morning at 9:00 am we will conduct our first census of the year, to be repeated at noon and again at 3:00 pm, and conducted every day until October 31.  Field Naturalist Intern Diane Tassey will learn the census procedure from Field Coordinator Louise Zemaitis, and Diane will conduct the census many times during the coming months.  We will also begin our tagging and educational outreach efforts.  Our first visit from the Press will come on day 1 this year, as a photographer and a reporter from the Press of Atlantic City are scheduled to meet with us at the Triangle Park in Cape May Point.  And so the 2016 field season will begin.

We're already being asked to predict whether this will be a large, small, or average migration year in Cape May.  My reply?  We just don't know.  Monarch experts predict a lower than average migration this year (, and while monarch populations across the continent may be below average, here in Cape May the winds play a major role.  If we get a lot of westerly winds many monarchs will end up east of Delaware Bay, and thence at Cape May.  If east winds dominate during the fall, however, we'll see fewer.  We know better than to predict the weather!  But we can say that there seem to be good numbers of August monarchs around Cape May this year.  While some are already migrating, many seem to be courting and reproducing.  We're seeing eggs (above) and caterpillars (below) on the milkweeds around Cape May.  It's these immature stages that will produce monarchs that will be heading to Mexico later in the season -- under ideal conditions it's about a month from egg to adult.

While most of our work occurs in Cape May Point, again this year we are mobilizing volunteers to tag monarchs in other parts of southern New Jersey, north of the Cape May Canal, using color-marked tags (shown below).  If you see a colored tag (some are pink and others are green), please drop us a note at and let us know when and where you saw the tag, plus the tag color.  If you're in southern New Jersey and see any tagged monarch and can read the 3-letter, 3-number code (UML 152 in the example below), let us know and also report your sighting to Monarch Watch.  Important details are when and where the monarch was seen, the tag code, and your preferred contact information (e-mail or phone number).  Note that the 2016 Monarch Monitoring Project is using tags with the letter codes WHG, WHH, WHJ, WHL, WHM, and WHN.

If you'd like to volunteer to help tag monarchs in southern New Jersey, you'll need to come to our volunteer training session at 1:30 pm on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 10.  RSVP is required, please send a note to if you're interested and we'll send you the location and other details about the volunteer training session.  If you are already a monarch tagger and tag any monarchs in Cape May Point or elsewhere in Cape May County, we'd appreciate receiving a copy of your tagging data.

We will report back tomorrow evening on the first day of the 2016 field season, and will post updates regularly throughout the fall season.  Our formal programs don't begin until Sept. 14, but if you find yourself in Cape May Point on any September day, there's a good chance you'll see one or more members of the MMP team engaged in our research and educational efforts.  If you're interested in our formal programs, however, here is the schedule:

Monarch Talk & Tagging Demo: Every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2:00 pm from Sept. 14 to Oct. 16.  Join the CMBO Monarch Monitoring Project team and learn about the Monarch butterflies that migrate through Cape May. After the talk, watch as small tags are affixed to Monarchs to track their migration. Meet at Cape May Point State Park at the East Shelter, the picnic pavilion next to the Hawkwatch Platform. You’ll learn how you can help with Monarch conservation. No pre-registration required. Family-friendly. There is no fee for this program, though contributions to the Monarch Monitoring Project are welcome. No preregistration required.

Monarch Monitoring Project Drop-In: Daily from September 15 through October 19 at 11:00 am (cancelled if it’s raining).  Stop by the Cape May Point Triangle Park, at the junction of Lighthouse and Coral Avenues in Cape May Point to meet one or more members of the Monarch Monitoring Project team to learn about their work. The team may be tagging Monarchs, tending to the gardens that support the Monarchs, or engaged in other project activity. There is no fee for this program, though contributions to the Monarch Monitoring Project are welcome. No preregistration required.

Monarch Tank Talk: Fridays September 23, 30, and October 7 at 10:00 am.  Come to the CMBO Northwood Center to visit the Monarch caterpillars and chrysalides that are raised by the Monarch Monitoring Project staff inside the Center.  Monarch Field Naturalist Lindsey Brendel will explain the metamorphosis of Monarch butterflies and discuss the proper care and maintenance of living displays such as this one. There is no fee for this program, though contributions to the Monarch Monitoring Project are welcome. No preregistration required.

New this year: Full day workshop, Monarchs on Migration, Thursday, September 22, led by Mark Garland. Learn about the biology of the Monarch butterfly and spend a day in the field with the Director of the CMBO Monarch Monitoring Project. Visit gardens and other natural areas around Cape May Point to watch Monarch behavior and see the principles of butterfly gardening in action. Learn how to safely handle and tag Monarchs, and also learn methods for conducting field research into these migratory insects. Visit the CMBO Northwood Center to see the terraria where Monarch caterpillars and chrysalides are on display, and learn about the proper husbandry of such displays. We will take time to identify many other butterflies that can be found at this season in Cape May Point, and we’ll identify a few of the migrant birds that are sure to be around, but the primary focus will be on Monarch biology all day. There will be a short indoor illustrated talk on Monarch biology, but most of the day will be in the field in Cape May Point. Preregistration required. Cost: $85 members, $125 nonmembers.

photo courtesy of John Reilly