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Monarch Migration Peaks Along the Atlantic Coast
Thousands of Monarchs Funnel Through Cape May, New Jersey

September 15, 1997
Cape May, New Jersey is one of the best places in all of North America to watch the monarch migration. Every fall, large concentrations of butterflies come through on their way to Mexico. This year, they're flowing into Cape May in record numbers, and Dick Walton's Monarch Migration Project is ready and counting:

 "We've already had the largest week since we began our study 5 years ago! We think the peak is yet to come, because in previous years the first big waves never hit this early," Walton reported last week. "Other researchers and I predicted this was going to be a great year. My first week of data supports this prediction. It shows more than twice as many Monarch's moving through Cape May as the same week last year."

You're Invited!
Although you may not be able to come to Cape May in person, you can follow the progress of this year's migration every day on the Monarch Migration Project WWW site. Will this truly be a record-breaking year as the experts predict? Data already collected from this year's migration is compared to migrations of the past 5 years on the table below, courtesy of the MMP. Using the data, see if you can answer today's Challenge Questions.

Monarchs Sighted per Hour
Monarch Migration Project
Cape May Point Road Census, 1992-1997
End of Week . . . 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997
1 7.52 11.95 95.96 43.30 9.08 184.49
2 10.94 12.25 155.29 35.11 6.66 125.12
3 12.13 41.65 143.49 28.86 52.29 ?
4 12.95 67.83 123.57 27.22 58.99 ?
5 11.89 82.03 128.63 26.95 73.17 -
6 12.26 80.60 108.87 26.87 69.10 -
7 12.66 71.77 95.34 28.78 66.42 -
8 11.17 65.49 91.44 27.41 63.04 -
Final 10.41 62.88 84.95 25.89 58.91 -

Courtesy of Monarch Migration Project
All data Richard K. Walton and Lincoln P. Brower.

But Why Cape May?
Last week, we challenged you to consider this question. A map of the Atlantic Coast helps tell the story. Migrating butterflies try not to pass over open water. So, when they reach the Atlantic Coast, they funnel south along the coastline. Cape May is at the southern tip of New Jersey, and is surrounded by water. Here the monarchs hesitate: They must either cross the Delaware Bay--15 miles of open water--or turn around and fly back up the peninsula. Thus, butterflies by the thousands rest and refuel at Cape May before continuing their journey.

Just like a funnel, New Jersey's geography concentrates migrants at its southern-most tip. This natural funnel also makes Cape May a great place to watch migrating hawks, songbirds, and even migrating dragonflies.

Directions to Mexico, Please!
But wait, why do so many monarchs go through New Jersey on their way to Mexico? After all, if you were traveling to Mexico from eastern Canada or one of the New England States for example, wouldn't New Jersey be a bit out of the way?

Weather or Not?
The answer is still a mystery, but the weather seems to hold a clue. In the Northern Hemisphere, prevailing winds come from the west. Experts suspect these westerly winds may actually blow the butterflies eastward. This means that even monarchs that start from points WEST of New Jersey might actually be blown back EAST to the Atlantic Coast. There they would collect and become part of the funnel southward. This theory would help explain why there are so many more monarchs at Cape May than one would expect. This might also help explain why weather seems to affect the numbers of monarchs that appear at Cape May each year.

Try this!
  • Measure the Pace of the Monarch Migration
    How many monarchs per hour are migrating through your area? The Monarch Migration Project's method of counting monarchs is a great way to quantify the migration. Please try to indicate how frequently you are seeing monarchs. Some people keep track of the number they see in a day--or in a week. Whatever you chose, be sure to watch on a regular basis. And remember, keep track of times you DON'T see monarchs, because this is important information too. When you're ready to report your sightings, press the owl button on the left and a Field Data Form will appear.

  • Unpave the Way for Monarchs
    In order to complete the migration, a monarch must find nectar to fuel its trip. Imagine the long trail of flowers a monarch follows all the way to Mexico. You can help un-pave the way for the journey south by establishing backyard habitat for monarchs. When your project is complete, report back to Journey North so we can put your habitat site on the map.

More About Cape May
Cape May National Wildlife Refuge was established only 10 years ago--and just in the nick of time. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the United States, with over 1,000 people per square mile. And people love the Jersey shore, putting humans and wildlife in competition for limited space. Housing and commercial development on the New Jersey coast make Cape May NWR and surrounding protected areas at Cape May, critical habitat for migrating wildlife.

Cape May is well known as the spring stop-over site for migrating shorebirds. One and a half million shorebirds use the Delaware Bay as their last refueling stop on their way from South America to the Arctic. The spring migration is timed to coincide with the egg-laying of horseshoe crabs. The shorebirds arrive just as these ancient-looking creatures come ashore to lay their millions of eggs. An example of perhaps one of the most incredible stories of timing in nature. During the fall, Cape May sees the greatest concentration of migrating hawks of anywhere in the United States.

Other Fall Nature Notes

  • "Hawk migration is underway in Bancroft this week!" reports Sam Conroy from Ontario, Canada (conroys@post.kosone.com ). "The Bancroft Field Naturalists report seeing 86 hawks soaring in the thermals over the Eagles Nest in Bancroft- a high cliff which overlooks the village. In one afternooon, 63 broad wings, 35 sharp-shinned, 3 coopers, 4 red-tails, 1 merlin, and 3-4 kestrals were spotted! Get ready, America, they are on their way!"

  • From South Whitney, Indiana, Dawn Fontaine (fontaine@mail.fwi.com) reported a very unusual migration sighting on September 5th: "A ruby-throated hummingbird few into our house while Dad was fixing an open wall in the kitchen. It tried to get out the screen door and couldn't. We used a large glass jar and caught it. After looking at it and listening to it for a couple of minutes, We let it go. It was so exciting!"

  • More hummingbird news arrived on September 15th: "This is your reporter Valerie Leclair reporting from Consecon, Ontario with an update on the migration of the ruby-throated hummingbird. Our two pairs were last seen on Saturday, September 13- the weather was very sunny and warm and there was a light breeze blowing....watch for our hummers as they make their journey south!"