Frequently Asked Questions


Questions

  1. When does the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count (WMTC) run this year?
  2. Why does it run this time of year?
  3. I want to participate! How do I learn more?
  4. How many times do I need to visit my site during the overwintering season?
  5. How many monarchs can I expect to see at my site?
  6. How do I count monarchs at my site?
  7. What else will I need to do at my site?
  8. How will I learn where these overwintering sites are located?
  9. I’ve never counted monarchs before. Is there some type of training I can attend?
  10. What is done with the information I collect?
  11. I know of an overwintering site that’s not on your map. What do I do with this information?
  12. Will I tag monarchs?
  13. Can I bring friends along?
  14. I can’t commit to monitoring this year, but I would still like to see monarchs. Where can I go to see them?
  15. How can I learn more about monarchs and their migration?

  1. When does the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count (WMTC) run this year?
  2. The WMTC always runs for three weeks over the Thanksgiving holiday. In 2016, the dates are from Saturday November 12 through Sunday December 4, 2016.

  3. Why does it run this time of year?
  4. By mid to late November most monarch butterflies have arrived to their overwintering locations and are getting settled in for the season. By having a set time period every year we are able to compare counts at all sites and determine if the average number of monarchs counted per site is increasing or declining each year.

  5. I want to participate! How do I learn more?
  6. The best way to learn about the monarch overwintering counts is to look through this website. Check out the step-by-step guide to becoming a WMTC volunteer available under the resources section of this website.

  7. How many times do I need to visit my site during the overwintering season?
  8. The minimum we request from volunteers is one visit during the official count period, but given the dynamic nature of overwintering groves we highly encourage volunteers to visit multiple times throughout the overwintering season (usually October through February). If you can visit your site only one other time during the season, a count during the first week of the New Year is best.

  9. How many monarchs can I expect to see at my site?
  10. This varies greatly from site to site and from year to year. Some sites may have hundreds or thousands of monarchs, whereas others may have only a handful (and sometimes none at all!). While it’s exciting to see large numbers of monarchs at an overwintering site, knowing about the smaller sites is also incredibly important, and even your observations of no monarchs at a historic monarch overwintering site are valuable for understanding monarch population trends over time.

  11. How do I count monarchs at my site?
  12. The best way to learn how to count monarchs is to check out our Survey Protocols page. That said, we can give you a general answer here. The first step is to remember that even though we call this a monarch count, in reality it’s more of a monarch estimate. Every site monitor will develop a slightly different way of counting monarchs at their site, depending on how many are present and his/her own comfort level.

    As you start out, first assess your site. How many monarchs do you see? If there is only a handful scattered throughout the site, it’s usually pretty easy to count each one separately. However, for sites with dozens, hundreds, or thousands of monarchs, this method is much too overwhelming. Standard practice is to count a small cluster of butterflies and then extrapolate that number out to how many similarly-sized clusters you see at the site. Keep in mind that the easiest time to count monarchs is when they aren’t moving, so it’s best to do your count in the early morning or on a cool, overcast day. If possible, be sure to look at the clusters at your site from different perspectives to be sure you’re capturing all the monarchs present. It’s easy to forget a cluster is a three dimensional assembly until you start moving around! It’s also a great idea to count with someone else, so you can compare your numbers and techniques and arrive at a more accurate estimate.

  13. What else will I need to do at my site?
  14. As part of our effort to understand the microhabitat needs and conservation status of monarch butterflies in the west, volunteers will fill out a short one-page habitat assessment at each site they monitor. This form only needs to be completed once per season and it provides a snapshot of site conditions, threats, and other pertinent information. By collecting these data each year, we can gain a better understanding of what characteristics are important to overwintering monarchs and which sites might be have the greatest needs for protection or restoration.

  15. How will I learn where these overwintering sites are located?
  16. Use the map feature on the Find an Overwintering Site Near You page to find overwintering sites in your area. You can enter your address or another location in the search field, and then scroll around to find nearby sites. Clicking on a site will pull up basic information about that site’s count history and current monitoring status (i.e., if it has been adopted by a volunteer or not).

  17. I’ve never counted monarchs before. Is there some type of training I can attend?
  18. Trainings are periodically available through Xerces or our partner organizations. Check out our Events page for information on trainings and workshops throughout California. Additionally, use our official Facebook page to coordinate with others who have experience monitoring monarchs and see if you can organize a group outing. Our Regional Coordinators page on this website will give you contact information of folks in your county who have extensive experience monitoring monarchs and can probably give you some tips.

  19. What is done with the information I collect?
  20. The data you collect is critical to understanding the western monarch population status! Without these data, we would not know that the population has been in decline since monitoring efforts began in 1997. When you send in your data sheets, everything is entered into Xerces’ western monarch overwintering database. This database houses information on all known monarch overwintering sites in California and is used to better protect and understand monarchs in the west. In addition, all counts conducted during the official Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count are added to a smaller database and analyzed to determine changes in monarch populations over time. This information is updated every winter and posted to the Xerces website in January or February.

  21. I know of an overwintering site that’s not on your map. What do I do with this information?
  22. The map represents only a subset of all the overwintering locations in our database (we didn’t include sites that we knew were private or sensitive unless the land owner gave us permission) so it’s possible you found one of these other locations. However, it’s also possible you’ve discovered an overwintering site that we have not documented in our database! Either way, send a note to the Xerces monarch coordinator and they can check the database and get back to you.

  23. Will I tag monarchs?
  24. Tagging monarchs is not part of the monarch count protocol. If you are interested in tagging monarchs, contact the folks at Monarch Alert to learn more.

  25. Can I bring friends along?
  26. Absolutely! Counting is more accurate when more than one person does the count. Each person quietly counts all the monarchs, and then you compare all your estimates. The ideal is to come within 20 percent of each other’s estimates. If it’s more than this, discuss your techniques, and count again.

  27. I can’t commit to monitoring this year, but I would still like to see monarchs. Where can I go to see them?
  28. Monarchs overwinter at hundreds of sites along the California coastline. For a list of some of the largest publicly accessible sites, check out Where to See Monarchs in California. You can also visit our Events page to learn more about festivals, parades, and docent trainings.

  29. How can I learn more about monarchs and their migration?
  30. There is a plethora of monarch information available on the internet. If you’re interested in more information on the western migration, check out the Xerces Society or Monarch Alert.