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 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.