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, 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.

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