The Unfolding of Pat Sutton’s 44-year-old Wildlife Garden

The Unfolding of a Wildlife Garden, One Year in the Sutton Garden

I will be presenting (in person) the “Unfolding Wildlife Garden” Episode for the first time on February 20, 2023 for the Southeast Chapter of the Native Plant Society of New Jersey at Stockton University, Room 246, Unified Science Building, 7:00-9:00 p.m.

I presented the 1st draft 1 1/2 hour program (virtually) on February 17, 2022 for CU Maurice River.  Unbeknownst to Ben Werner and I, the Zoom platform had issues with video and apparently viewers watched a jumpy picture during portions of the presentation.  We have still not learned of a solution on the Zoom platform.

About the presentation:   Ben Werner and I worked on this project all of 2021 (getting video footage and stills) and since then have put in 100s and 100s of hours pulling together some of the stories that unfolded in the garden.  So far we have completed two episodes.  There are many more stories (Episodes) to be told.

“UNFOLDING WILDLIFE GARDEN” EPISODE

The 55-minute “UNFOLDING WILDLIFE GARDEN” episode includes all four seasons in Pat Sutton’s 44-year-old wildlife garden (as of 2021).  This episode showcases Chocolate Cake native nectar plants month-by-month, nearly all of which are also host plants.  Spring nectar offerings begin in Pat’s woods, a third of their property that they recovered from invasives in 2009.  Summer nectar offerings occur throughout the property, but largely in their sunny perennial garden, which sits entirely on their septic field.

Pat’s study of native pollinators (bees, ornately-patterned flies, wasps, beetles, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds) is woven throughout this episode.  Pat has studied life cycles and life histories of butterflies and moths for the past 40+ years (and more recently those of bees, flies, wasps, and beetles).  Life cycles occur on a daily basis in this wildlife garden.  The knowledge Pat has gained from life cycles she’s witnessed has greatly influenced how she maintains her wildlife garden.  The fragility of insects in all stages of their life cycle is at the heart of Pat’s “hands off” approach.  She sees her garden as a safe supermarket and nursery for pollinators.  In fussed over gardens (think dead heading, cutting spent stems and seed heads, etc.) the very pollinators drawn in are likely to find themselves in a dead end death trap, where their eggs laid, or feeding caterpillars, or fragile chrysalids are tossed into the  trash or brush pile with clipped plant stems and seed heads  . . . and none of us want that!  A hands off approach leaves more time for study, learning, and joy.

The transition of “Cover” provided in this wildlife garden will be showcased, from brush piles in late fall through winter, to robust stands of perennials, trees, shrubs, and vines, including a number of native evergreens.  The film will showcase busy water features which draw wintering birds to heated bird baths, and migrants and nesting birds to a whole array of warm-season water features (from misters to fountains to bird baths).  The Sutton’s bird feeder array is showcased in conjunction with the fact that they’ve documented over 213 bird species in their yard in the past 40+ years.  Viewers will also see how Pat addressed “Privacy LOST” after a neighbor took down a hedgerow of invasives.

Monarch Episode

The 45-minute MONARCH EPISODE  came about because 2021 was a very good year for Monarchs in Pat Sutton’s native plant wildlife garden (and hopefully your garden too).  She had Monarchs in the garden daily from mid-June on. She found lots and lots of eggs and caterpillars from June through late fall.  She watched and filmed a Monarch caterpillar going into it’s chrysalis in the garden (a happenstance gift that she was at the right spot with her camera when that five-minute transformation occurred). She discovered five different chrysalids in her garden, and watched and filmed the adult Monarch emerging from two of them. So of course, the Monarch’s story had to be told so she could share this priceless footage.  This episode covers the many native Chocolate Cake nectar plants month-by-month that draw in and benefit Monarchs, in addition to the native Milkweeds they need for egg laying.  It showcases the many predators that target Monarchs (at all stages: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and adult) and other butterflies and moths.  And finally this episode conveys that each Monarch that survives to adulthood and begins its journey to their winter roost sites in the mountains of Mexico,  is not only a survivor, but a miracle!

Consider booking one or both of these episodes for your group!

Hopefully each episode will be as riveting to viewers as it was to Ben and me as we put it together. We had such fun with these episodes that many more episodes will follow focusing on different aspects of wildlife gardening!

Pat hopes these presentations will convert attendees to her wildlife-friendly garden methods as she showcases discoveries she made that would not have survived in more heavily tended, fussed-over gardens.

Through the early years of Covid, an unsettling and uncertain time, the Sutton’s wildlife garden soothed the soul, entertained, and educated. In this wildlife habitat so much happens right before your eyes, with layer upon layer of nature unfolding. Migrant and nesting birds find countless caterpillars and other juicy treats, as well as plentiful fruits and seed heads. Varied and beautiful pollinators benefit from native perennials, trees, shrubs, and vines that offer a cascade of blooms from early spring until blooming shuts down with late fall’s first frost.

A din of calling Green Frogs on many summer nights led to their egg masses being discovered the next day.

Life cycles occur on a daily basis. The Monarch’s life cycle is fairly easy to witness in a wildlife garden.  Because of the abundance of native plants in a true wildlife garden, many other life cycles are also occurring that are rarely discovered but just as fragile!

You may want to download and print the latest update of Pat’s “Gardening for Pollinators” Handout (CLICK HERE), which includes lots of sage advice, Chocolate Cake nectar plants month-by-month, and sources of helpful signage.  It will save you from making mistakes that all of us have made and help you create a healthy and safer wildlife garden.

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For twenty-three years (1991-2014), Pat Sutton led “Tours of Private Wildlife Gardens” in Cape May County  

Pat and Clay Sutton’s garden during the July Tour 2014

For twenty-three years (1991-2014), I led “Tours of Private Wildlife Gardens” in Cape May County.  I saw these tours as one of the best ways  to “grow” more wildlife gardeners.  You can see the excitement in the photo above as tour participants find, study, and share with each other butterflies, spiders, caterpillars, native bees, frogs, turtles, hummingbirds, and the beautiful nectar plants, host plants, wildlife ponds, water features, and habitats that have attracted them.

Initially I led these tours for NJ Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory, where I worked as the Program Director.  Between 2007-2014 I led the tours for NJ Audubon’s Nature Center of Cape May.

Many of the owners of these beautiful, private, wildlife gardens had taken workshops with me and / or attended these tours.

Many garden owners shared with me that a personal goal was to have their own garden included on these tours.  The number of wildlife gardens grew and grew.  Eventually there were so many educational gems to share that I broke Cape May County into three regions and led back-to-back tours, covering different parts of the county each day.  I led these tours in July, August, and September so attendees could see first hand the different “Chocolate Cakes” in bloom month-by-month and the variety of wildlife attracted.

On the final tour, garden-owner Gail Fisher presented me with my very own Chocolate Cake made by her Mom (it was delicious).

And to further spoil us on that final September 2014 garden tour Gail Fisher served homemade Chocolate Cupcakes.

TAKE A VIRTUAL TOUR OF PRIVATE WILDLIFE GARDENS

Many of the gardens that were included on the Cape May County tours can be seen in the photo galleries below.  These photos (taken over the years) truly record the evolution of these private wildlife gardens and may give you some great ideas for your own garden.

  • South Tour (Cape Island: Cape May, Cape May Point, West Cape May, and Lower Township)
  • Mid-County Tour (North Cape May, Villas, and Erma)
  • North Tour (Cape May Court House, Goshen  . . . including my own garden, Dennisville, Eldora, South Seaville, and Ocean View)

MEGA Monarch & Dragonfly Flight, Cape May Point, NJ, October 3, 2018

Hi Gang,

It is the peak of fall migration!  Any time the winds are from the Northwest, you can bet your bippy there will be birds, butterflies, dragonflies, and bats galore migrating through Cape May Point.  The Monarchs will continue to migrate through all of October and, if conditions are right,  even the first few days or first week of November.

October 3rd the winds were gentle from the northwest, perfect for migration, so Clay & I decided to “take our walk” at Cape May Point.  We got down there and never left.

A blizzard of Monarchs on Seaside Goldenrod at Cape May Point, October 3, 2018. A day for the record books!

The floodgates opened and a river of Monarchs and dragonflies was flowing down the dune line, right over the dune crossovers in the town of Cape May Point.  That was the place to be.  A steady movement of Monarchs floated by while others nectared on the Seaside Goldenrod in the dunes.  Some pulses were huge!  A steady movement of dragonflies zoomed by including mostly Black Saddlebags and Common Green Darners with some Carolina Saddlebags mixed in (about 1 in every 10 saddlebags).  The numbers were uncountable.  Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of Monarchs and dragonflies.  I’ve included some photos with this post to share with you the spectacle we witnessed on October 3rd, truly a day we’ll remember forever more.

Thousands of Black Saddlebags and Common Green Darners migrating down the Cape May Point dune line over nectaring Monarchs in the Seaside Goldenrod.

Many Monarchs reach the tip of the Cape May Peninsula  on winds like those that blew on October 3rd from the northwest.  These winds blow migrating Monarchs out to the coast.  Rather than get blown out to sea, they turn and follow the coastline south, and reach lands end, Cape May Point.  On days with the right conditions (gentle winds from the northwest), numbers build and build.  Sometimes we’re treated to a late afternoon and evening roost where Monarchs gather by the thousands.  The next morning can be quite a spectacle, when they are warmed up by the rising sun and lift off to continue their migration.

Talking with Mark Garland, who heads up the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project, he did not expect that there would be a huge roost or roosts of Monarchs the evening of October 3rd in the town of Cape May Point because it was so warm (80 degrees).  He shared that those huge roosts usually form in the late afternoon on the colder days when temperatures are 50 degrees or cooler.  He thought there would be lots and lots of little Monarch roosts around Cape May Point instead, with 10 Monarchs here and 10 Monarchs there.  From what we hear, that was the case.  We couldn’t stay that evening to see for ourselves.

We headed back down the next day, October 4th to see what was left over from the flight the day before.  The winds switched in the night from northwest to south, so we weren’t expecting too much.  Indeed the south winds were not bringing new Monarchs to us, but it was a beautiful day for a walk.

This fall, respond to weather predictions.  If the winds are to come from the north or northwest, get to Cape May Point!  Just do it!!!

Monarchs nectaring on Seaside Goldenrod with the Delaware Bay beyond. Please don’t flush them for a photo. Their migration is hazardous enough!
All these photos were taken on October 3, 2018, from designated trails and dune crossovers in Cape May Point. Please don’t walk up into the dunes for photos. For one thing it is illegal and very poor etiquette.

If you should encounter roosts of Monarchs, please do not approach so close that you flush them.  Remember that they’re holding on for their lives.  The next stop is a big stretch of water and that can be treacherous for Monarchs.

There are many dune crossovers in the town of Cape May Point that take you right next to blooming nectar full of Monarchs.  And there are nectar-rich stretches along the dune trails (between the dune and the Plover Ponds) in both the Cape May Point State Park and the South Cape May Meadows.  All these sites offer terrific photo opportunities.    Please do not leave dune crossovers and trails to venture into dunes for photos; it’s illegal for one thing and disruptive and just poor etiquette.

There are also 100s and 100s and 100s of Common Buckeyes nectaring on the Seaside Goldenrod in the dunes at Cape May Point now.

If you want to keep your finger on the pulse of the Monarch migration, read my previous post, “Cape May Monarch Migration, Fall 2018 (click on underlined text to get to link).”

I’ve been rejuvenated and given hope, having seen this mega flight.  May you too connect with one of the Monarch flights this fall.

To Hope,

Pat

Cape May Monarch Migration, Fall 2018

Hi Gang,

Moving Monarch cats from stripped milkweed in my front yard garden to my still-leafy patch of Swamp Milkweed in my backyard garden (8-26-18)

I had so many Monarch caterpillars in my various patches of Milkweed (Butterfly Weed, Swamp Milkweed, and Tropical Milkweed) in August that they stripped some of it bare.  Luckily I have a robust stand of Common Milkweed and was able to move many of the still-hungry caterpillars to that stand.  I heard from many gardeners who had planted only a few milkweed plants and were unprepared for the bounty of Monarch caterpillars.  Lesson: Plant More Milkweed!!!

Afterwards, I was away for a week over Labor Day running 2 butterfly counts in South Carolina (the 26th year I’ve run these counts), and when I returned the Monarch caterpillars in my garden had disappeared, hopefully to safe places where they went into their chrysalis stage.

We’re all hoping that this will be a magical fall at Cape May for Monarch migration.  If yesterday (September 25) was an indicator, I think we’re in for a treat.  Clay and I played hooky yesterday and walked some of our favorite spots on The Point (the southern tip of NJ): South Cape May Meadows, Cape May Point State Park, Triangle Park in the town of Cape May Point, and the streets of Cape May Point.  Despite heavy rain to the north and the west, the sun came out in Cape May and the Monarchs were nectaring in force.  One garden on Alexander Avenue in Cape May Point had 50 nectaring Monarchs on a breathtaking stand of Late-flowering Thoroughwort.

Late-flowering Thoroughwort in a garden on Alexander Avenue in Cape May Point yesterday (9-25-18) with 50 nectaring Monarchs!
A close up of some of the nectaring Monarchs yesterday (9-25-18) on Late-flowering Thoroughwort

Some falls I and others have enjoyed seeing 100s (some years 1000s) of Monarchs roosting together in the dunes at Cape May Point or in trees in certain yards.  Some of these roost sites are used fall after fall.  The dune crossover by St. Peter’s By the Sea Church at the intersection of Ocean and Harvard Avenues in Cape May Point is often good.  Sometimes on a good flight day, when 100s or 1000s of Monarchs are being blown out to the coast and south to Cape May Point, by late afternoon (2:30 or 3 p.m.) they begin to gather in sheltered spots, where they will spend the night communally.  You can view them that evening or early the next morning before the sun hits them and warms them up enough to take off and continue their migration.

One of the gatherings LAST FALL at a Monarch roost site at the dune crossover by St. Peter’s By the Sea Church in Cape May Point (10-1-17)
Last fall (9-30-17 at 8:00 a.m.), a roost site in the early morning before the Monarchs warmed up enough to take off and continue their migration

If you would like to keep your finger on the pulse and not miss a big movement of Monarchs at Cape May or an evening roost (or soon-after-dawn departure from that roost), here are a few tips.  Follow the Cape May Bird Observatory’s “Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project” at these 3 sites (click on the underlined text / link to reach these sites):

  1. Monarch Monitoring Project BLOG (updated almost daily in Sept & Oct)
  2. Monarch Monitoring Project Facebook Page: “Cape May Monarchs”
  3. Monarch Monitoring Project (primary site with in-depth information)

When you read the Blog, be sure to scroll back and read the September 16th post, “Don’t Bring Monarchs to Cape May.”  Share with friends who have either transported Monarchs to Cape May or plan to do so.

This fall there are some great opportunities to learn about migrating Monarchs from the folks studying them.  Don’t miss:

MONARCH TAGGING DEMO
Fridays, Saturdays, & Sundays: September 7 to October 14
(weather permitting) 2:00 pm – 2:45 pm
Meets at the East Shelter next to the Hawkwatch Platform at Cape May Point State Park. Join CMBO Monarch Monitoring Project naturalists to learn about the Monarch butterflies that migrate through Cape May. You’ll learn how you can help with Monarch conservation. After the talk, watch as small tags are affixed to Monarchs to track their migration. No preregistration necessary. Family-friendly. Cost: FREE.

MONARCH MONITORING PROJECT DROP-IN
September 10 through October 25
Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays & Thursdays only
1:00 – 1:30 pm
Stop by Triangle Park, at Lighthouse and Coral Avenues in Cape May Point to learn about the Monarch Monitoring Project.  The team may be tagging monarchs, tending to the gardens that support the monarchs, or engaged in other project activity.  No reservations needed for this free program, but contributions to the Monarch Monitoring Project are welcome.

2nd ANNUAL MONARCH FESTIVAL
Sunday, October 7
10:00 am – 4:00 pm
At the Nature Center of Cape May (1600 Delaware Avenue, Cape May, NJ).  The festival will include educational programs, butterfly tagging demonstrations, children’s crafts, along with music and food! Join in the celebration and learn why this area is so special to the migration of the butterflies and what you can do to help conserve wildlife. Suggested $5 donation to support the nature center programs throughout the year.  Call the NCCM at 609-427-3045 with any questions about the festival.

Enjoy this fall’s Monarch migration!
Pat

Monarch Caterpillars: Numbers in Gardens this late Summer and Fall (2016)

sm-monarch-chrysalis-in-virginiarettiggdn-9-25-16001-sigHi Gang,

I have been traveling a lot and so am tardy in sharing some very good news.  I’ve heard from wildlife gardeners near and far that their milkweed patches have been discovered by egg-laying Monarchs.  Caterpillars are still being found, lots of caterpillars!  Chrysalises too, like the one above that I enjoyed today in Virginia Rettig’s lovely North Cape May wildlife garden!

Today I stopped at the West Cape May Elementary School to see their “Schoolyard Habitat” and was thrilled to find their thriving Common Milkweed patch with at least 5 Monarch chrysalises on the brick school and in under steps of wooden ladders placed near the garden (for just that purpose — a safe spot off the beaten path).  Hopefully more and more schools will create and utilize outdoor wildlife gardens like this to connect students with the natural world.

sm-cmbo-monarch-chrysalis-display-9-25-16002
Display at CMBO Northwood Center on 9-25-16

I also stopped by the Cape May Bird Observatory’s Northwood Center (701 E. Lake Drive, Cape May Point, NJ) and was dazzled by their Monarch Migration display and by their terrariums full of hungry caterpillars and chrysalises!

Don’t miss the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project’s fun opportunities to learn about Monarchs this fall:

MONARCH TANK TALK

Fridays: Sept. 23, 30, and Oct. 7

10:00 to 10:15 a.m.

At the CMBO Northwood Center (701 E. Lake Drive, Cape May Point, NJ) .  Free.

MONARCH TAGGING DEMOS

Every Friday, Saturday, Sunday, & Wednesday

Sept. 14 through October 16  (weather permitting)

2:00 to 2:45 p.m.

Meets at Cape May Point State Park at the East Shelter, the picnic pavilion next to the Hawkwatch Platform.  No preregistration required.  Family-friendly.  FREE.

Full details about these and other programs can be found in CMBO’s Kestrel Express.

To keep your finger on the pulse of the Monarch migration through Cape May this fall, go to the Monarch Monitoring Project BLOG.

As many of you know I have written many posts about Monarchs and Milkweeds for “Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens.”  I’d love to share the links with you here so that you can do more reading, but sadly that lovely website is no longer.

 

Monarchs and Milkweed in 2015

sm-Milkweed in FULL bloom-CumberlandCoCt-byPatSuttonw-sig
A meadow of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) in Cumberland County, NJ. I’d love to see wildlife management areas around NJ and elsewhere thick with this native wildflower, but sadly invasive non-natives have crowded them out in many places

 

Back in February the Press of Atlantic City pointed the finger at wildlife gardeners as contributing to the demise of Monarchs, specifically that by planting Tropical Milkweed we “may be killing” Monarchs. My e-mail box overflowed. My phone rang off the hook. I promised to get back to folks but didn’t get a chance until now.

I’ve addressed the issue and the latest news of Monarch numbers this past winter in Mexico, which directly affects the coming year.

To learn more be sure to read my latest post on Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens:

Monarch & Milkweed Concerns — 2015

PLEASE leave any comments in the comment section at the end of my post. That way other readers can benefit from your comment and my reply (rather than writing to me directly). Thanks a bunch!

Many are concerned and planting milkweeds, but there too you have to be careful of where you buy your native milkweeds.  Don’t buy milkweeds from big box stores because many plants sold by big box stores have been treated with insecticides called neonicitinoids.  Monarch caterpillars will die eating these plants!  Read more HERE.

Other posts I’ve written about Monarchs may also be of interest:

Too, I’ll be giving my “Milkweeds for Monarchs” program, packed with helpful information, three times this spring.  Check out our “Upcoming Events” page for details and plan to join me.

Monarch Garden Tours: Sept. 19, 20, & 21

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Monarch caterpillar on Common Milkweed in Pat Sutton’s garden August 25, 2014

At the peak of Cape May County’s world-famous fall Monarch migration, tour diverse gardens that have hosted Monarchs since May. Each features native nectar plants and as many as five different kinds of milkweed (used by Monarchs for egg laying to create the next generation). Expect Monarchs and other butterflies, Monarch eggs, caterpillars, and maybe even a chrysalis. The complex Monarch migration will be both explained and enjoyed.

I’ve worked with 18 garden owners to line up this set of Garden Tours.  Don’t miss this opportunity to see a fine selection of wildlife gardens with lovely stands of MILKWEED: Common Milkweed, Swamp Milkweed, Butterfly Weed, Whorled Milkweed, Purple Milkweed, and Tropical Milkweed. The annual, Tropical Milkweed, will be in bloom.  Most of our native perennial milkweeds have already bloomed, but their robust leaves still pull in mating and egg-laying Monarchs well into the fall, as our local Monarchs create yet another generation. These gardens are coming into their fall attire, which will be as stunning as the summer garden, yet completely different.

2014 TOURS OF PRIVATE MONARCH GARDENS

10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 19 — Mid-County Tour, including amazing gardens along the Delaware Bayshore in North Cape May and Villas
Saturday, Sept. 20 — North Tour, including Pat Sutton’s garden and other gems from Cape May Court House north to South Seaville
Sunday, Sept. 21 — South Tour, including gardens south of the Cape May Canal

Expect these gardens to also be hosting lingering hummingbirds, butterflies, caterpillars, stunning native plants, and undoubtedly some surprises. Fall migration will be underway, so anything’s possible.

TOUR DETAILS AND PRICING

Gardening naturalist and author, Pat Sutton, leads these tours, which include her own garden in Goshen (North tour). Bring lunch since the group will eat in one of the gardens.
Limit: 25 per tour.
Three Tours / Cost per tour: $35 members (NJ Audubon), $45 nonmembers.
(Join three tours at a discounted rate of $90 members, $115 nonmembers.)
These tours require preregistration with payment.

Registration: you may register by phone at 609.898.8848 with a credit card or send payment to the Nature Center of Cape May, 1600 Delaware Avenue, Cape May, NJ 08204 (noting which tours and full names, addresses, and phone numbers of registrants).  NCCM reserves the right to cancel programs, and refunds are available only if NCCM cancels the event. Walk-ins are welcome on a space-available basis. Become a member of NJAS and receive discounts in the gift shop and on many programs.

 

Monarchs, Where are They in 2013 ?

Monarch-GiantSunflower-byPatSutton(001)-w-txt.jpg
Monarch on Giant Sunflower in my fall wildlife garden

I am very concerned about Monarchs

This year, I’ve been asked more times than I can count, “Where are the Monarchs?”

It is now fall and Monarchs are migrating through Cape May on their way south to the mountains of Mexico where they will winter. They’re not absent.  We’re seeing some.  But few came from our wildlife gardens, where previously our gardens were responsible for generation after generation.  My garden in all of 2013 (so far) has attracted less than 20 Monarchs and I’ve only found 1 caterpillar.  That’s OFF, big time!

I fear that this coming winter (2013-2014) their numbers at the winter roost sites in Mexico will be even lower than last winter, which was the lowest in 20 years.

Read my latest post on Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens, “Where are the Monarchs in 2013?” to learn about the plight of eastern Monarchs and why we’re seeing so few.

If you are not familiar with the many posts I wrote for Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens (as well as the other excellent daily posts), you might want to bookmark the site and learn from it daily.

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Late-breaking GREAT news (and photos) from Jean Gutsmuth!

At the garden of a friend in Haddon Heights, New Jersey, the numbers of chrysalises hanging from EVERYWHERE on her house and garage is amazing;  she estimated 95 to 100 on September 20, 2013.  They are hanging from eaves, window sills, around door frames, and even on the bricks of her house.  The friend shared that she never saw more than perhaps two pairs of monarchs at one time.  Although she had a fairly good size garden of milkweed, it is pretty well stripped.   Thank you Jean for giving us this GREAT news and sharing your photos.  Let’s hope there are many more pockets of Monarchs like this!

sm-95 chrysalises (Haddon Heights GDN)-by JeanGutsmuth-9-20-13 (001) sm-95 chrysalises (Haddon Heights GDN)-by JeanGutsmuth-9-20-13 (002) sm-95 chrysalises (Haddon Heights GDN)-by JeanGutsmuth-9-20-13 (003) sm-95 chrysalises (Haddon Heights GDN)-by JeanGutsmuth-9-20-13 (005) sm-95 chrysalises (Haddon Heights GDN)-by JeanGutsmuth-9-20-13 (006)

Monarch Migration at Cape May — Fall 2012

This fall’s Monarch Migration at Cape May has been magical. Each cold front has brought another wave.

Flights on September 23 and 24, 2012,

were steady all day long with Monarchs floating down the beachfront from dawn till dusk. Each of those evenings, by late afternoon, Monarchs began gathering at roost sites in Red Cedars near blooming Groundsel-tree in dunes along the beachfront and in deciduous trees near blooming English Ivy along the rural streets of Cape May Point.

Even nasty looking Common Milkweed is still vital to Monarchs, leave it standing through fall

Still finding Monarch eggs and caterpillars

And through it all we’re still finding Monarch caterpillars on milkweed, so please, please, please, DO NOT cut down the milkweed in your garden. Despite looking “done” it’s still helping the Monarch population swell.

Monarch Roost, 7:00 to 8:30 a.m.

Yesterday morning (September 25), at first light, I visited sites where Monarchs had roosted through the night. As the sun warmed them and they were able to fly, they dropped down onto blooming Groundsel-tree and nectared heartily. It was magical – no other way to describe it!

Even though I’ve witnessed Monarch evening roosts dozens of times over the many falls we’ve lived in Cape May County, I can never get enough of them. Red Cedar trees sometimes adorned with a thousand plus Monarchs, wings closed and looking like dead leaves until a newcomer flies by and they all open their wings as if to say, “Join us, this is a safe place to rest.”

Winds switched the morning of September 25, coming from the southwest – a headwind for a migrating Monarch (winds that do not help them continue their migration south). With this being the case, many Monarchs could not continue their migration, but are still around Cape May.

Next coldfront: Thursday, September 27

Another cold front is predicted for Thursday (September 27), winds that just might bring another wave of southbound Monarchs.

Monarchs on a blooming male Groundsel-tree, September 25, 2012

If you’ve never witnessed the magic of the Monarch Migration at Cape May, this is the fall to do it. Not every autumn is accented with magical Monarch flights, but this fall is proving to be just such a fall.

Don’t contact me to learn if there’s to be a Monarch flight

I may be out of town and you might miss one.

Instead, pay close attention to the weather

  • If it turns cold and you’ve got to track down flannel pajamas
  • and pull up the comforter at night
  • get to Cape May the next day!
  • That cold weather is a cold front – with north and northwest winds – winds that carry Monarchs and other migrants (Red Bats, dragonflies, warblers, flycatchers, thrushes, raptors, and so much more) out to the coast and south to land’s end at Cape May Point!
  • If the weather is warm and Indian summer-like, well . . . the winds are probably from the south and pushing migrants away from Cape May. If that is the case, well, don’t bother coming. But if it is cold and blustery, get here quickly.

Monitor the 3 websites I’ve listed below and read the posts

On these posts, folks often predict when they feel the next good Monarch flight might happen. Monarchs often gather at roosts in the dunes and around Cape May Point from about 3 p.m. on at the end of a good flight. If there’s been a cold front any time from mid-September through October, Monarchs may pour to the tip, Cape May Point.

I’ll be sharing my “Milkweeds & Monarchs” program on Monday evening, October 1, 2012, at the County Library, 30 Mechanic Street, Cape May Court House, NJ.  Join me!  It’s FREE.

Good luck with the miracle of migrating Monarchs!

See you in the field.