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, November 10, 2017

End of season

It's about 11 pm on the evening of Nov. 10, and our prolonged monarch migration season is certainly ending tonight, as the temperature in Cape May has reached 29 and the predicted low is 25.  We'll hope that many of the monarchs that were still lingering at the Point yesterday will have moved on, heading south to Mexico.

It had been a good monarch migration season through late October, when the migration generally finishes up.  Much to our surprise, many monarchs arrived in Cape May during the last few days of October, with the roost shown above, along the St. Peter's dune crossover, numbering over a thousand monarchs on the night of October 31.

Many monarchs crossed Delaware Bay on Nov. 1, but we continued to see a few monarchs around Cape May Point right up to the 9th, when we managed to tag over 40.  Will monarchs lingering this late make it to Mexico?  We really don't know, so that's why we continue to tag.  If one of these late monarchs makes it to Mexico and the tag is found, we will then be able to answer that question.

Our team is assembling the season's census and tagging data, and in a few weeks we will offer a retrospective on the season.  But before that, we want to say thanks to all of our volunteers, thanks to our seasonal naturalists Stephanie Augustine and Rebecca Zerlin, thanks to the 2000+ visitors who attended our programs this fall (and the countless others we met with informally), thanks to all who have made contributions to support our work, and thanks to all who have made some effort to support and protect monarchs and their habitat, and to those who have educated others about the biology of these remarkable little insects.

One of the last monarchs tagged at Cape May Point in 2017.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Lots of monarchs

A very big movement of monarchs is being reported from Cape May Point this afternoon, more details after further investigation.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Monarchs in the rain

Monarchs were again seen in good numbers around Cape May Point on Saturday, roosting again at the same areas where they were seen on Friday night.  Rain arrived on Sunday morning before the monarchs had left the roost, and we had a lot of rain all day long, so the monarchs never left the roosts.  Every once in a while we saw one or two flying around, as if to test the air, only to settle back in.

We took these photos in the late afternoon.  Water was dripping off some of the monarchs, and most were completely motionless.  It's amazing that these butterflies are well adapted to withstand a rainy day, with raindrops beading up at the tip of the wing before dropping off.

Monday's forecast calls for rain ending around sunrise, followed by strong west winds at 20 to 25 mph, with high temperature in the mid-50s.  We doubt that the monarchs will head out across Delaware Bay in those winds, so we expect them to leave the roost once they begin to dry out and then search for nectar.

If you're coming to Cape May in search of monarchs on Monday, we suggest visiting areas where some flowers are still in bloom, especially areas that are out of the strongest winds.  There may be monarchs in sheltered pockets of seaside goldenrod near the beach, but we're guessing the more monarchs will be in the flower gardens scattered around Cape May Point.

Tuesday's forecast calls for northwest winds at 10 to 15 miles an hour, and if that forecast holds, we could watch our monarchs departing for Delaware.

We don't know if more monarchs are on their way to Cape May; we have seen recent reports of monarchs to our north, so there may still be some to arrive.  Last year we had a good numbers passing through on November 4, and perhaps that will be repeated this year.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Saturday looks promising

Good numbers of monarchs were seen around Cape May Point today, with a roost of about 400 gathering near the intersection of Harvard and Lehigh Avenues and smaller roosts nearby (and perhaps larger roosts elsewhere that we didn't find).  Saturday's weather forecasts suggests that many of these monarchs may stay at the Point and others may continue to arrive from the north.  Storms are due to arrive on Sunday however, which makes this look like a poor day for monarch viewing.  We really can't guess whether the days following the storms will bring more monarchs or not; the migration season will surely be ending soon.

Monarch joining the roost at Harvard & Lehigh
Seaside goldenrod has been the preferred nectar source for monarchs at Cape May Point for most of of October, but many of the goldenrods are past bloom now.  Monarchs are visiting the ones that remain in bloom, but many are returning to private gardens, where annual flowers are now providing much of the nectar needed by the butterflies.

Monarch at one of the few seaside goldenrods that are still in bloom.
Monarch nectarine on marigold
Most of the monarch action remains in the areas of Cape May Point closest to the beach and the dunes, though observers did note many monarchs moving south along the Delaware Bay shore.  Many monarchs started to gather in roosts quite early in the day, more than four hours before sunset, even though the day was rather warm.  Perhaps as we get later into the year the urge to gather into communal roosts is growing stronger.

Monarchs gathering atop an eastern red cedar at mid-afternoon.
Since monarchs are still around, our field naturalists are offering bonus tagging demos this weekend.  Join Rebecca and Stephanie at 12 noon on Saturday or Sunday at the East Shelter in Cape May Point State Park for a short talk on monarch biology and conservation, followed by a demonstration of the tagging that's a big part of our project.  We hope to see many of you at one of this weekend's programs.

Monarch resting on poison ivy leaf.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Monarchs keep coming

Less than a week of October remains in 2017, but the weather is just now turning chilly with winds from the north and northwest.  These are winds that bring migrant birds and monarch butterflies into Cape May, but it's getting late into the monarch migration season.  We didn't know what to expect when storms passed through on Tuesday and the temperature started dropping.  Maybe we'd see another surge of monarch migration, or maybe the changing weather would signal the end of the 2017 migration.

Today's observations tell us that the migration certainly isn't over, but we don't know how many more monarchs are coming nor for how much longer they'll keep coming.  Last year the migration continued through the first week of November.

There were reasonable numbers of monarchs around Cape May Point today, and a small roost was found at Cape May Point State Park, but many more monarchs were seen a bit to our north at Stone Harbor Point.  Maybe they'll flood into Cape May Point tomorrow, or maybe they'll just fly over us and head straight to Delaware.  Maybe many more will arrive from the north.  I wish we could better predict what was going to happen over the next few days, but since we can't, we'll just head out  into the field each day to keep counting and checking.

Monarch roost at Stone Harbor Point, 10/25/17

Our scheduled tagging demos have ended, but since monarchs are still around, we're happy to announce new, bonus monarch tagging demos at 12:00 noon this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, at Cape May Point's East Shelter, the covered picnic pavilion adjacent to the hawk watch platform.  There's no charge for the program, though donations to the NJ Audubon Cape May Bird Observatory Monarch Monitoring Project are happily accepted.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Quick update on Monday morning

Our team has been super busy with the NJ Audubon Cape May Bird Observatory Fall Festival, but the very good late season flight of monarchs has continued.  We are still seeing monarchs along the dunes and in the gardens at Cape May Point, and we think that will continue today.  We have watched many monarchs cross over to Delaware, but others continue to arrive from the north.  Observers in other parts of New Jersey and in New York are still reporting many monarchs, so there are more to come.

Tuesday's weather forecast calls for wind and rain, not good for monarchs, but followed by a cold front with northwest winds, ideal conditions for monarch migration.  Wednesday and Thursday could be good days for monarch migration at Cape May Point -- if the ones to our north make it through the storms.  Our fingers are crossed.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Monarchs coming and going

Cape May basked under warm sunshine today, with gentle winds blowing from the northwest.  Ideal conditions for monarchs to migrate.  While many were seen flying out from the Point and heading to Delaware, it seems that an equal number arrived.  Monarchs were once again plentiful and easy to find.  The warm weather seems to have kept them from forming any large communal roosts, which many visitors have been hoping to see, but at any time of day there are many monarchs to be seen -- and not just in Cape May Point, all around Cape May City as well.

We expect more monarchs to continue along on their southbound journeys tomorrow, but we are also still receiving reports of monarchs to our north.  Will tomorrow bring more into Cape May Point, or will it be more of a departure day?  It's hard to guess, but we are pretty sure that the monarch viewing will be good for at least one more day.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Monarch numbers continue to rise

Monarch numbers continue to grow at Cape May Point this morning.  We didn't find any sizable roosts last night, and we can't say if big roosts will form tonight (it's been quite warm at sunset the last few evenings), but we can say that anyone in Cape May Point will see a lot of monarchs this afternoon!  Tomorrow's forecast suggests that many of these monarchs may head to Delaware in the morning, but there could be just as many, or more, arriving from the north.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Quick Wednesday update

We're seeing good numbers of monarchs around Cape May Point this morning, especially in and near the dunes.  We know that good numbers have been reported recently to our north, so we don't know if the numbers will build or if there will be any big roosts found this evening, but we can say that monarch viewing is good today.  Updates to follow.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Saturday update

MMP Founder Dick Walton with 2017 Interns Rebecca Zerlin & Stephanie Augustine.
Dick Walton, our Founder and Director Emeritus, headed back to his home in Massachusetts this morning.  Dick had the vision and the drive to begin the Monarch Monitoring Project in 1990, and he ran the program for more than 25 years, even though he has never lived in Cape May.  He continues to take time out of his schedule every autumn to come to Cape May Point to help with the work of the project.  He provides wisdom and mentorship to our Interns and to all of our volunteers.  We always wish he could stay longer, but Dick is a brilliant naturalist who is involved with many projects, including the study of jumping spiders (see here).  Thanks, Dick, for your wisdom, foresight, guidance, and friendship.

Monarch feeding on seaside goldenrod at Cape May Point.

Meanwhile, the monarch migration continues through Cape May Point.  After seeing very few monarchs on Thursday, due to heavy winds (a gale warning was in place all day), a modest number came out of hiding on Friday, mostly seen feeding in gardens and along the dunes in Cape May Point.  It's hard to know what's going to happen over the next few days, as the weather forecast is quite unsettled.  We do know that there are still a lot of monarchs to our north, so the possibility exists for another big surge to come through Cape May.

Rebecca Zerlin at tagging demo.
We do know that our public outreach programs are continuing.  Our last two formal tagging demos at Cape May Point State Park will be held on Saturday, Oct. 14 and Sunday, Oct. 15.  The programs begin at 2 pm at the East Shelter in Cape May Point State Park, and there is no fee.  These programs begin with about ½ hour talk about monarch biology, migration, and conservation, and then our staff and volunteers spread out and each gathers a small group of visitors to show how monarchs are tagged.  We will also have tagging demos as part of the Cape May Fall Festival, run by NJ Audubon's Cape May Bird Observatory.  Our casual "drop-in" programs continue every Monday through Thursday through October 26.  These programs begin at 1 pm and are held at the Triangle Park in Cape May Point, located at the junction of Lighthouse and Coral Avenues.  We hope to see many friends of monarchs at our upcoming programs.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Thursday update

We saw good numbers of monarchs around Cape May Point yesterday.  During the late morning, after some early rain, monarchs were moving back and forth along the dunes.  After noon many headed inland a block or two, feeding on flowers, as shown below.

Monarch feeding on zinnias in a Cape May Point garden

Monarchs feeding on English Ivy flowers.  The tagged monarch
at upper right was tagged here at Cape May Point by visitors. 
We know that there are still lots of monarchs to be seen in Cape May Point this year.  We continue to receive reports of many monarchs in areas to our north, including New York, Connecticut, and Ontario.  We know that some monarchs still haven't emerged from the chrysalis as adults; Bill Schuhl found one in his garden yesterday (see below).

Monarch at Bill Schuhl's garden, 10/11/17.

It's been raining in Cape May early Thursday morning, but the rain is predicted to stop soon.  Winds in excess of 20 mph are predicted to last all day.  We expect the monarchs here in Cape May won't be going anywhere today, and that they'll hunker down in sheltered areas where they may be tough to find.  We'll be out there looking.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

More press coverage, Tuesday outlook

We'd like to share to recent press pieces about our favorite butterflies and the work of the Monarch Monitoring Project.  From Tuesday's Press of Atlantic City:  and from Philadelphia's WHYY:  Thanks to the terrific writers of these articles.

Meanwhile, Monday's heavy wind and rain are gone, and Tuesday is sunny and warm, with a gentle wind from the north.  Monarchs have been active in the dunes at Cape May Point this morning -- not a big number, but a steady trickle moving back and forth through the seaside goldenrod patches.  Some took off for Delaware.  We keep receiving reports of more monarchs massing to our north, and we expect more to arrive into Cape May very soon.  Will it happen later today?  It's possible, but we just can't be sure.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Again we await a shift in the wind

We have been experiencing winds from the south and southwest for several days now, winds that don't usually bring many monarchs into Cape May.  We're not without monarchs, visitors have seen a few flying over the streets of Cape May Point and past the hawkwatch every day, and some are found settled into the town gardens.  The best viewing continues to be on the seaside goldenrod flowers found along the dunes and on the upper beach at Cape May Point.  If you go looking for monarchs in these areas, please stay on the paths or the section of higher beach where no plants are growing.  The goldenrods and associated plants play a vital role in the protection of the dunes, and the dunes protect the town from storm surges and extreme high tides.  Entering the vegetated area of the upper beach and dune can cause erosion that can lead to failure of the dunes.  Happily, there are usually plenty of monarchs to see and enjoy right along the paths.  Once the wind shifts, and the forecast suggests that this might happen on Tuesday, we expect to see the numbers of monarchs surging again.

Monarch on seaside goldenrod
While we haven't been seeing big concentrations of monarchs, we continue to have big audiences for our tagging demos, often in excess of 100 people.  We love sharing information about monarch butterflies, and we hope that many of you will join us again next Friday, Saturday, and Sunday when we have our next tagging demos.  We meet at 2 pm at the East Shelter of Cape May Point State Park. On Mondays through Thursdays we offer less formal programs at 1 pm in the Triangle Park in Cape May Point.

Tagging demo at Cape May Point State Park
Our team continues to tag dozens of monarch butterflies, so it seems like a good time to remind everyone about what to do if you find a tagged monarch.  You need to be able to read the 3-letter, 3-number code on the bottom line of the tag; in the photo below, the tag code is XAY 578.  To better read the code on a photo, underexpose your photo -- make it darker than the meter wants.  That way the tag will be easier to read, since it's lighter in color than the monarch or the background.  The tag also includes an e-mail address and a toll-free number, and you can report the tagged monarch either way.  Be sure to include your contact information, date and time of your sighting, and the location.  Better yet, the folks at Monarch Watch encourage reports via this website: Online monarch reports.  We always hope that many of the monarchs that we tag will be sighted and reported.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Monday update -- they're back!

After having very good numbers of monarchs around on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, we watched a major exodus on Sunday morning.  We feel a little sad to watch them go, yet we're happy that they are on their way to Mexico.  The winds were predicted to blow from the east early this week, and we expected a few quieter days before the next surge was to arrive into our area.

Much to our surprise, the wind continued to blow gently from the north on Monday, and by the afternoon we saw another major influx of monarchs into Cape May Point.  By mid-afternoon the seaside goldenrod along the beach at Cape May Point was absolutely loaded with monarchs.

Since the afternoon was warm and the winds were gentle, many monarchs kept feeding until sunset; some monarchs began settling into overnight roosts as the sun began to set, but our guess is that more came into those roosts during the late twilight hours.

Our predictions are often wrong, but here's our guess: Right after sunrise there will be good sized roosts at various locations.  The most recent best roosting spot, in the pines along the trail to the beach at St. Peters-by-the-sea in Cape May Point, will probably have plenty of monarchs at sunrise.  As the day starts to warm, most monarchs will probably head back into the seaside goldenrod to feed, while some will head out across Delaware Bay to continue their southbound migrations.

Whatever happens tomorrow, we'll report back to let you know.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Saturday update: Plenty of monarchs!

We've got brisk northwest winds in Cape May today, so brisk that few monarchs appear to be departing for Delaware, but others seem to be arriving.  The hot spots are currently right along the dunes on the eastern portion of Cape May Point, and the butterflies are active around the path to the beach from St. Peter's Chapel, at the corner of Harvard, Ocean, and South Lake.  The woods here held a substantial overnight roost last night, and it looks like there will be just as many this evening, if not more.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Monarchs a-plenty in Cape May

We were forced to be patient early this week, as east and northeast winds swirled around Hurricane Maria, which parked itself offshore for a few days.  But everything changed on Thursday, when the winds switched around to come from the northwest.  Monarch numbers steadily increased on Thursday, but Friday brought the year's first really big flights.  All day long we watched monarchs dropping into Cape May Point from the sky, stopping to feed in gardens, amongst ivy vines, and especially along the dunes, where the Seaside Goldenrod has just started blooming.

As we watched monarch numbers build all day, we started to anticipate monarch roosting in the late afternoon.  When the temperatures start to get chilly, and when lots of monarchs are around, they'll cluster together in the late afternoon, reminiscent of the way they cluster together by the millions in their Mexican wintering areas.  By late afternoon we started searching, and we found a number of areas where a few hundred monarchs we forming roosts.

One of the biggest roosts was found in the pine trees along the pathway to the beach by the St. Peter's chapel, where Harvard, Ocean, and Lake streets meet.  Roosts were also found by the corner of Cape & Lincoln, and also along Alexander Ave.

We were delighted by a visit from Ted Greenberg of Philadelphia's NBC-10 television station, who filmed and produced a short segment on the monarchs of Cape May Point, which you can see here:

The forecast suggests that monarchs will continue to migrate through Cape May Point in good numbers on Saturday and possibly also on Sunday.  If you come to Cape May to see the monarchs this weekend, we hope you'll come to one of our Monarch Talks and Tagging Demos, which are held at the East Shelter of Cape May Point State Park at 2:00 pm on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through October 15.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Thursday update

A cold front is passing through Cape May, bringing northwest winds. We are seeing a gradual increase in monarchs around Cape May Point, and we expect numbers to increase over the next few days. We can't know, however, if we will see a few more monarchs or a lot more. Stay tuned for updates.

Remember that we have public programs every day for the next few weeks. Join our team at 2 pm in Cape May Point State Park every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for a monarch talk and tagging demo. Meet at the East Shelter, the covered picnic pavilion adjacent to the hawk watch platform. On Monday through Thursday you can meet a monarch biologist at 1 pm at the Triangle Park in Cape May Point for a casual discussion of monarch studies, often with a tagging demo. Triangle Park is at the junction of Lighthouse and Coral Avenues.

Young visitor launches newly tagged monarch.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Monarch numbers today better than we first thought

Monarch numbers turned out to be better than we first thought today; we didn't find them this morning in the gardens where they normally occur, but instead found many along the dune and tucked into a few yards where the English ivy vines have begun to bloom. Census numbers from today were similar to yesterday's. So it looks like the weekend will be good for viewing monarchs in Cape May.

Numbers dropping a bit

Last night we predicted that monarch numbers in Cape May would be increasing this weekend; so far that has not proven to be true, and numbers are down a bit this morning.  North winds are continuing, which often bring monarchs into Cape May, but we aren't always able to accurately predict what will happen.  Stay tuned for further reports.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Monarch numbers rising

Cape May has seen northwesterly winds since Tropical Storm Jose moved past, and as expected, monarch numbers have been increasing.  We are guessing that numbers will continue to be high around Cape May right through the weekend.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Waiting for the Wind to Change

We are now two weeks into the field season for the Monarch Monitoring Project.  We've seen monarchs every day, and we're busy tagging every day, but we are still waiting for the first major influx for 2017.  As sometimes happens at this season, we're in a spell of warm, humid weather with winds blowing from the south or the southeast.  These are not winds that bring many monarchs into Cape May.  The current weather forecast is full of uncertainty, with tropical storm Jose churning away out in the Atlantic.  If it drifts close to shore, we're likely to see more winds from the south and the east.  If it drifts further east, however, it could let a cold front push through, bringing winds from the northwest and, in all probability, a good influx of migrating monarchs into Cape May.

While we can't accurately predict how many monarchs might be coming to Cape May, we can predict that our programming will continue every day until late October.  During the last week we have presented our first 4 tagging demos, which are held at 2:00 pm every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Cape May Point State Park through October 15.  On the weekend of Oct. 20 - 22 our programs move to the Cape May Convention Hall as part of the NJ Audubon Cape May Autumn Festival.  Mondays through Thursdays you can meet our team for an informal "drop in" program at 1 pm, at the Triangle Park, located at the junction of Lighthouse and Coral Avenues in Cape May Point.  Drop-in programs continue until October 26.

We'd like to share a few highlights from the first few demos of 2017.

We start with a short talk about monarch
biology and our project's work.

Then we break into smaller groups, and a member
of our staff demonstrates tagging technique.

Once the monarch is tagged, one or more
volunteers get to be the "launching pad."

Sometimes a monarch will stay on the launching pad
before taking off to continue its migration.
It can be magical to watch a monarch up close!

There's no age limit for releasing a newly tagged monarch.
And off it goes!

We usually have many monarchs to observe, tag, and release.
Come with your curiosity and questions, and be ready to have
your sense of wonder activated!