Monarch Roost

Posted 10/2/06
by Jane Kashlak

Life in Cape May is ruled by all sorts of migrations. Early in the spring colorful warblers drop in on their way north. The summer brings equally colorful tourists. Just as things quiet down, the monarchs arrive.

It's late September, right on schedule,when the phone rings. We put down what we're doing and race out the door.

Monarchs - lots of them - are spending the night in Cape May Point.

It's been a very good season for monarchs so far.
Louise Zemaitis has been tagging and counting more monarchs than ever this season. (Look for her programs at Cape May Point State Park.)

In our own little corner of the world, we have at least half a dozen or more fluttering around our butterfly garden every day.

But a roost is special. These are clusters of travelers, stopping by for the night, on their way south to Mexico.

Mildred Morgan spotted the groups of orange and black butterflies hanging from trees like leaves while she was on her daily walk. In no time, the word was out among Cape May's butterfly afficonados.

We get there close to dusk. It's hard at first to see the thousand or so butterflies dripping from the small patch of wild trees and brush.

It was such a windy day. The monarchs wisely decided now was not the time to try to cross the Delaware Bay, so they hunker down in Cape May Point.

A small crowd of monarch devotees hover nearby, watching the spectacle of a thousand butterflies covering the trees.

We go back the next morning and, because of the ferocious winds, the monarchs are still clinging tightly to their perches.

As soon as the wind changes, they'll be off to Mexico.

The wonder is, this crop of monarchs has never been there before. Just a month or so ago, they were caterpillars eating someone's milkweed.

That's the magic of the monarchs. Their travel plans are hardwired into their very being.

We take some photos, marvel at something we can't fully comprehend, then go out for breakfast. The next evening, we start searching the cedar trees in our own backyard. Who knows. Maybe one day, we'll find a thousand butterflies roosting in our garden.

To find out more about monarchs, see the monarch banding demonstrations this fall at Cape May Point State Park.

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