Cape May Monarchs: Watching and Waiting

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Cape May, NJ – Were we seeing double? Two monarchs, side by side, were fueling up at our garden zinnias Friday.  Turns out they had more on their minds than food.

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They were in the midst of propagating a new generation of Monarchs and we were disturbing them.

Monarchs have become America’s favorite butterfly. This year, from Iowa to New Hampshire, there are reports that fewer Monarchs are being spotted in local gardens and that has worried Monarch enthusiasts across the country.

Monarch Woes

Monarchs have not had an easy time of it this year.  After a huge migration last fall, they got to Mexico to find their winter habitat decimated by loggers. On their way north in the spring, they ran into a drought ravaged Texas.  To make matters worse, new herbicide resistant crops in America’s farm belt eliminated the milkweed they need.

But the head of Cape May’s Monarch Monitoring Project, Dick Walton, says the Monarch population has fluctuated up and down before. He says it’s much too early to send out alarms. The Project has been counting Monarchs in Cape May for over 20 years.

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At Cape May Point State Park Friday,  the Monitoring Project started their annual  tagging demonstrations,  showing how the Monarch population is counted  An intern with Monarch colored fingernails held up the delicate butterfly for the crowd to see.

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Mark Garland, the communications director, helped a young lady release a tagged Monarch into the wild.

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One of the Monarchs, with the white tag affixed to its wing, clung to a chunk of vegetation after being released, almost reluctant to start the long journey ahead. Once it leaves Cape May Point, the butterfly will fly two thousand miles to get to its Mexico wintering spot.

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Now Cape May Point watches and waits for more migrating monarchs.

When the seaside goldenrod on Cape May Point’s dunes starts blooming in the next week or two, the Monarch Monitoring Project is hopeful they’ll see a surge of migrating monarchs.

Despite the dismal early reports, Dick Walton says he wouldn’t be surprised by a few, great days of Monarch migration.

“This is Cape May,” Walton said. “Amazing things always happen.”

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Monarch Tagging Demo

To see Monarchs being tagged and released, go to the pavilion near the Hawkwatch at Cape May Point State at 2PM Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from September 20 to October 19.

About Jane Kashlak

Jane Kashlak is a journalist, a gardener and a Cape Island resident. She's also Cape May Times' photographer. She founded Cape May Times after a long and lively career in TV news.