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, August 9, 2019

Meet the staff

Preparations for the 2019 field season have been taking place for a while now.  We have ordered new tags, refreshed our supplies of educational materials, and worked on gardens where our field work will take place.  The most important task each summer, however, involves hiring our seasonal staff.  We hire two Field Naturalist Interns each year, and they will do most of the work during our field season, which runs from Sept. 1 through early November.  We asked each of our new Naturalists to introduce themselves to friends and supporters of the Monarch Monitoring Project.  Meet Victoria Cope and Anya Held:

Victoria Cope working in Alaska, summer 2018
Victoria Cope wrote: "I am a graduate of Sterling College with a degree in Ecology and an emphasis in Natural Resource Conservation. As an undergraduate I worked as a research assistant for Sterling College. Through this position I conducted research in ecology, mycology, entomology and agroecology. I designed a number of research projects, including a long term pollinator monitoring study. In my final semester I completed my senior thesis investigating the impact of invasive species on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in Vermont. In the summer of 2018 I worked on a research project conducted by the Forest Service in the Tongass National Forest on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, collecting data on forest regeneration, forest health, and understory vegetation. This experience solidified my love of fieldwork, ecological research, and travel. I hope to attend graduate school in the near future to continue studying ecology, conservation and entomology. I have always been interested in studying monarch butterflies and their fascinating migration, so I am thrilled to be a part of this year's study with the New Jersey Audubon and participate in conservation efforts through the Monarch Monitoring Project."

Anya Held at work at the Hershey Gardens Butterfly Atrium
"Hi! My name is Anya Held, and I recently graduated from Lebanon Valley College with a B.S. in Environmental Science. While in college, I designed and implemented a native plant garden on campus to help provide habitat and food for native wildlife. This included milkweed and other butterfly host plants. I also had the opportunity to intern at the Hershey Gardens Butterfly Atrium. During this time, I helped educate the public on a variety of arthropods (most notably butterflies), raise caterpillars, and tend to the Hershey Gardens’ insect collection. I have fond memories of searching my backyard for Monarch caterpillars and butterflies as a child, and I look forward to creating new memories through the Monarch Monitoring Project! I’m excited to assist in the research, conservation, and education of these remarkable creatures so that others may experience them in the future."

We hope that all supporters of the MMP will help us welcome Anya Held and Victoria Cope to Cape May.  We look forward to the energy and insights that both can bring to our project.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Preparing for Migration

Preparations are underway for Field Season #30 with the Monarch Monitoring Project in Cape May.  Our research work begins on September 1, and this year's seasonal Field Naturalist Interns begin their  training on August 25.  In the coming days we will introduce you to this year's team.

Monarchs have been more numerous than usual in our area this summer, with an impressive 167 counted on the Cape May Butterfly Count, which was held on July 24.  These aren't Mexico-bound migrant monarchs, their the parents (or in some cases, the grandparents) of those that will be making the long journey in the fall.  Does this mean we will have a big migration coming up?  There's no way to tell, alas, it all depends on how successfully these generations reproduce, which is influenced by the weather.  Even more important is how well the monarchs are doing to our north.  When autumn cold fronts bring northwest winds into Cape May, we see monarchs migrating from the eastern Great Lakes region all the way east to the Atlantic coast of southern Canada.  When winds blow from the east, as happened for much of September 2018, most of the southbound monarchs seem to end up on the west side of Delaware Bay, missing Cape May altogether.  This may disappoint us, but it's probably good for the monarchs, as the crossing of Delaware Bay is hazardous and we know that some butterflies perish over the water.

Expect much more frequent blog posts now until our season winds down in early November.  In another upcoming post we will list all of the scheduled public programs coming up during the fall migration season.  We welcome all monarch enthusiasts, whether intense or casual in interest, to come to Cape May and join us in appreciation of this migratory phenomenon.  Two requests for the more serious monarch fans:

1. If you tag monarchs in Cape May, please share your tagging data with us, as we want to keep track of all monarchs tagged in and around Cape May, and of course don't enter private property or closed areas (such as the dunes at Cape May Point) without expressed permission to do so.

2. If you raise monarchs, please do not bring them to Cape May for release.  This will be our 28th year of conducting systematic censuses of monarchs in Cape May, one of the longest, most consistent data sets on monarch populations in existence.  Imported monarchs can skew our numbers and reduce the validity of our data.  Also, the water crossing of Delaware Bay is hazardous, as noted above -- you're probably not doing monarchs a favor by bringing them to the Cape.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Visit Mexico with us

If you have followed the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project for a while, you probably remember that we arranged a tour of three of the Mexican Monarch Sanctuaries in February 2018.  You can see a gallery of photos from that trip here:

We are pleased to announce that we are going back in February 2020!  New Jersey Audubon is once again sponsoring a visit to Mexico, led by Monarch Monitoring Project Director Mark Garland, and visiting 3 of the Sanctuaries: Sierra Chincua, El Rosario, and Cerro Pelón.  The trip runs from Feb. 21 to 27, and details may be found on the NJ Audubon website here:
If you love watching monarch butterflies, if you marvel at their amazing migrations, if you have seen hundreds clustering in the trees at Cape May Point, then magnify that sense of wonder a thousand times or more.  That's what it's like to visit Mexico, where countless millions of monarchs gather every winter.  There are many tours that visit one or two of the reserves, but ours is one of the very few that visits three.  Along the way we'll enjoy comfortable accommodations, tasty meals, fine camaraderie, and we'll even see a few birds along the way.

Spaces are limited, and our 2018 filled quickly.  We expect the same will happen on the upcoming trip.  For the full trip itinerary and registration information, send a message to and ask for information about the February 2020 trip to Mexico.  Join our group and you'll soon be witnessing sites like those shown below.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Good News from Mexico

The World Wildlife Fund just released results of the annual survey of monarch overwintering sites in Mexico, and the news is great -- the most area covered with monarchs since the winter of 2006 - 07.  The chart below is courtesy of the Monarch Joint Venture.  Learn more on their website:

Data from 1994-2003 were collected by personnel of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR) of the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas (CONANP) in Mexico. Data from 2004-2019 were collected by the WWF-Telcel Alliance, in coordination with the Directorate of the MBBR. 2000-01 population number as reported by Garcia-Serrano et. al (The Monarch Butterfly : Biology and Conservation, 2004)

Monarch numbers naturally fluctuate, so it's too early to tell if this is just a signal that 2018 was a very good year for monarchs, or if conservation efforts are paying dividends.  Monarch enthusiasts need to continue working to protect habitat, plant milkweed, and maintain nectar sources for southbound migrating monarchs.  We're all hoping that this is the beginning of an upward trend.

Monarchs at El Rosario, Mexico, February 2018
Curiously, monarch numbers are dramatically lower at overwintering areas in California.  Dr. David James of Washington State University pondered this on a post from his Facebook page, "MonarchButterfliesinThePacificNorthwest," noting a theory of the late Dr. Lincoln Brower (co-founder of our project here in Cape May) that this population is periodically augmented by monarchs from the eastern population.  See his comments on the January 23 post from this page:

Monarchs at Cerro Pelón, February 2018
In other monarch news, at the Cerro Pelón Sanctuary in Mexico, a monarch was just found that had been tagged at The Nature Conservancy's Muleshoe Ranch in Arizona on October 2, 2018.  Research and tagging in Arizona are conducted by the group Southwest Monarch Study, learn more about their work at their website,  Their work has shown that some monarchs from Arizona migrate to the California coast, while others go to Mexico. The dynamics of this population are still being unraveled.