Step 1: Explore Sites in Your Area
Using the Google map feature, enter your home address (or other location from which you plan to do your surveys) and check to see what overwintering sites are in your area. You can click on each site and some basic information will pop up that tells you the last time this site was counted, how many monarchs were counted, access issues, and if the site has a monitor. Ideally, you would adopt a site that does not have a monitor, although having multiple monitors for a site is not necessarily a problem. In fact, if you’re new to counting, you could coordinate with the current monitor to count together, or you could stagger your visits to cover a larger portion of the overwintering season.
Step 2: Adopt a Site
Once you find a site (or sites) that you’re interested in monitoring, use the Sign up to Monitor page to sign up for that site. This helps us know which sites have coverage from year to year and which ones could use some additional volunteers.
Step 3: Get Training
If this is your first time counting a site, it’s a good idea to get some hands-on experience with another volunteer before monitoring your own site. Check the Events page for information on upcoming trainings and events. You can also check our Facebook page, which will have announcements as well. You can also use this page to coordinate with other volunteers in your area and learn about group outings. Regional monitors often host group outings for experienced volunteers and newbies alike, and these outings may be posted on the News page of the website or on the Facebook page.
Step 4: Get Ready to Monitor
Download the necessary data sheets and survey protocols. This includes the count data sheet, the habitat assessment form, and instructions for using both of these data sheets. You may also want to download and print directions to the site, the site’s history (available via a site report), and special instructions on how to access the site (for example, if you need to coordinate with a land owner or if there is a hike to the site). Read through all of these documents carefully so you know what equipment you will need, what weather conditions are ideal, and what type of data you will need to collect. If you have any questions, reach out to the Xerces monarch coordinator or your fellow volunteers via the Facebook page.
Step 5: Set a Date
Set a date for your count! Remember that weather and temperature will affect your survey, so be flexible and try to head out on a day with ideal weather conditions (outlined in the survey protocol). If you can arrange to have another person help you out, that’s even better!
Step 6: Monitor Your Site
You will find directions for monitoring your site on the Protocols page. Please fill out data sheets as thoroughly as possible, and don’t forget to add your name and the date/time of the count! The Data Sheets and Survey Protocols page is also where you will find data sheets for the count and habitat assessment.
Step 7: Submit Your Data
Please mail or scan and email your data sheets to the Xerces monarch coordinator when you have completed them. Remember that negative data is as important as positive data – if you go to a site and observe zero butterflies, we still want to know about it! We are working with some developers to create an online data entry system where you can enter your count information directly into our online database, but until then please send all data to the Xerces monarch coordinator by December 31.
Step 8: Share Your Experience
Share your observations, questions, and successes with other volunteers across the state via our Facebook page.
Step 9: Revisit Your Site
If you can, head out for another survey during the overwintering period! The best time to revisit your site is the first week of the New Year, but if you want to do counts at other times as well, feel free to continue surveying and sending in your data sheets. Overwintering sites are dynamic places and depending on the weather and other factors monarch departures and arrivals can vary quite a bit. Recording monarchs during the official count period allows us to compare populations across the state in a standardized way, but at many sites the peak monarch population may not occur until later in the winter. Recording these data will allow researchers to better understand monarch population dynamics at overwintering sites. If you do revisit your site, don’t forget to send those data sheets to the Xerces monarch coordinator as well.
Step 10: Check Back for Updates!
Don’t forget to check back to the website in January or February to see the results of this year’s counts. To ensure your data are included in the annual report, please submit your data sheets to Xerces by December 31. After all volunteers have submitted their data sheets, Xerces will compile the data and post the results on our News page. You can also sign up for the Xerces Society’s monthly e-newsletter, which usually announces the counts results early in the year
You can download a pdf of this guide here.