Monarch Butterflies 2017 – What a Year!

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Cape May – The monarch migration through our Cape May backyard usually hits a peak in late September.  Not this year.  One late October day, our stalwart Tatarian Asters – the last perennial to bloom in our fall garden – became a living hedge of orange.  Thirty or forty monarch butterflies at a time covered the seven foot tall flowers to chow down before their flight to Mexico.

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This year was a banner year for Monarch migration in Cape May. Not since 2012 has the area seen so many monarchs stopping over on their way south. Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project director Mark Garland says only six other years in the project’s 26 year record keeping history beat this year’s migration numbers.

The butterflies were arriving later, that’s for sure. Chip Taylor the founder of Monarch Watch says the monarch migration was late across the country this year. In fact, he told Yale Climate Connections that the 2017 migration south was the latest he’s seen since he started keeping tabs on monarchs back in 1992. Taylor says monarchs didn’t grow into adults as quickly as in previous years because of the cooler temps in both the Northeast and the Midwest. That delayed the start of their journey.

Luckily, we had some late blooming nectar sources in our garden this year.  Two of  our backyard visitors shared a meal one fall afternoon on an annual Mexican sunflower.

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Note to self: remember to plant more Mexican sunflowers next spring.

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Even though we had a good number of monarchs right in our backyard, most of the monarchs traveling through Cape May follow the path of other visitors – they go by way of the beach. The Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project, which tagged monarchs during the entire season, counted over a thousand monarchs roosting in Cape May Point on the night of October 31 alone.  The project’s blog reported that many of those butterflies crossed the Delaware Bay the next day, heading for Mexico.

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Chip Taylor wasn’t optimistic about how many of these late monarchs would  complete their trip. The flowering plants they’d need to sustain them along the thousand mile journey would be past their peak by November. The Cape May Monarch folks tagged every butterfly they could, hoping to find out how many monarchs actually reached their destination.

It’s still too early to tell how successful this late migration has been but Garland says monarchs tagged in Cape May this fall already have been recorded in Florida and  Louisiana, and even one in Mexico.

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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.