While I was attending the Cape May Birding Experience, a young birder event, you gave the group a butterfly tagging demo. Can you explain the process involved in butterfly banding?
I’ve been studying Monarch butterflies during their fall migration through Cape May for many years (okay, 18) with the Monarch Monitoring Project. We conduct censuses and tag Monarchs in the field. We also gather information about Monarch roosting sites in the Cape May area and the food sources that they utilize during their migration. When we aren’t doing all of that, we do a lot of teaching.

Over the years I’ve tagged 1000’s of Monarchs. The process is fairly simple. First, you have to catch the Monarch (sneaking up from behind with a net is best). Once you record all of the data points, you take a small sticker (which includes an ID number and address) and place it on the wing. That sticker does not affect the Monarch’s ability to fly because Monarchs migrate by using thermals like hawks do. To be in perfect balance is not critical. Each year we have a number of recoveries from Cape May to Mexico. The MMP has learned a lot about out how fast and how far Monarchs can travel.

What is your quirkiest birding experience?
Yikes, I had to think about that one for a while. I’ve been birding for such a long time.  Now that I’m a seasoned pelagic birder, I guess I can tell this story (especially since it includes some good advice).

Years ago, a group of Cape May birders decided to go out on a winter pelagic trip off of Cape May. It was to be my first real pelagic birding experience. I was so excited.

Mistake #1: Don’t get so excited that you don’t get much sleep the night before.

Mistake #2: Start your seasick medication several hours prior to the trip. The hour that the directions suggest is not enough.

Anyway, it was a nice morning, just a little choppy. The birding was amazing. We started seeing alcids pretty early on. Unfortunately, I left the safety of the back lower deck of the boat to go up top to visit a friend and the captain.

Mistake #3: Stay away from the higher decks of a boat if you are susceptible to seasickness.

At that point it was too late. Suddenly, there were Dovekies everywhere. The captain stopped the boat and it started bobbing like a cork. I’ll leave out the gross details. Let’s just say that they involved a bucket and a first mate that didn’t mind asking me out on a date regardless of my condition. I never considered the date, of course.

About half way through the trip, I somehow snapped out of my seasickness (maybe the meds finally kicked in) and felt much better. I went back down to the back of the boat and enjoyed the rest of the trip. Highlights of the day included a Great Skua and about 700 Dovekies (of which I may have seen 300, but no complaints here).