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, 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

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The 2016 Monarch Season Begins

Thanks to Dave Magpiong for this photo.

The field season for the Monarch Monitoring Project got off to a head start last Friday at the annual "Pledge to Fledge" event at Cape May Point State Park.  We spent three hours talking about monarch biology and migration and tagged the first 4 monarchs of the year.  This great event is designed to introduce lots of Cape May summer visitors to the amazing natural history of the Cape.

Most of the fall seasonal staff for the Cape May Bird Observatory began work today, and tomorrow we will introduce them all to the work of the Monarch Monitoring Project.  We'll report back with photos of the group in action on their first visit to the gardens of Cape May Point.