On September 18th there was an estimated half million Monarch butterflies in Cape May, NJ, and sadly, I was not there to see it. But, I do have friends in Cape May who shared their story (and photos) of the big day with me.
The team of researchers from the Monarch Monitoring Project had been noticing extremely high numbers of Monarchs all day, and they had tagged many of these butterflies as part of their ongoing project which studies the migration path of the Monarchs on their journey to the Trans Volcanic Mountains in Michoacan, to the west of Mexico City.
By early evening large roosts were beginning to form as the Monarchs settled in for the night, covering evergreen Cedar and Holly trees, then moving on to Black Cherries and even the bare branches of American Poplars.
Crowds of people gathered along the streets of Cape May Point to witness this phenomenon. Every tree along Stites Avenue was covered in Monarchs, their Black and Orange Wings fluttering in constant motion as they jockeyed for position on the branches.
But the real spectacle was to occur the next morning as the sun rose and warmed those wings, and the Monarchs began to stir and prepare to continue their southward journey across the Delaware Bay.
As they lifted off en masse, the air was filled with clouds of countless Monarch butterflies taking wing. What a breathtaking sight that must have been!
It’s interesting to note that the return of the Monarchs to their winter home in Mexico coincides with the celebration of Dia de los Muertos, and the local people believe that the Monarchs are the returning souls of their loved ones who have died.
Monarchs are threatened in the US and Canada by pesticide use and genetically modified corn crops which are lethal to them. Their wintering roosts are also under pressure as illegal logging in the Monarch sanctuaries thins out the trees which provide shelter from the elements and a buffer from temperature extremes.
Your wildlife garden plays a critical role in the continuance of this amazing Monarch migratory phenomenon. You can create a Monarch Way Station to help them on both their northward journey in the spring and their south-bound journey in the fall.
Monarchs need Milkweed, and their are many native species from which to choose. Talk to your local native plant society or your native plant nursery to find out which are the best species for your area.
The adult butterflies need nectar, so plan for a continuing bloom from early spring through late fall.
And, think about supporting the Monarch Monitaring Project by adopting a Monarch butterfly. You’ll be notified when your Monarch’s tag is read along it’s migratory route and you’ll be able to follow its progress online. This is a wonderful program and a great gift idea for your kids. Thank you for your donation to them!
On a happy note, I was blessed to be in Cape May over this past weekend, and the Monarch migration was still spectacular!
Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.
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