Ridgefield seeks ‘citizen scientists’ to study local plants, wildlife: ‘count what’s out there’

RIDGEFIELD — The Conservation Commission is re-counting the birds and the bees.

To update the town’s Natural Resource Inventory, first published in April 2012, members will study local wildlife and plant life over the next several months.

The NRI catalogs the mammals, birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians, trees and flowers that inhabit Ridgefield, providing a blueprint to chart a more sustainable future, according to the commission’s website.

The existing inventory is due for an update, Commissioner Kitsey Snow said, which will require volunteers to act as “citizen scientists” alongside commission members as they “count what’s out there.”

“I was (part of) the first one in 2012 … and we had lots of people help us do the counting,” she added. “That process really gets people out into nature and the open spaces, and you get to look at things in a different way.”

The commission will conduct studies in Ridgefield’s open space areas and state parks, as well as at Weir Farm and Woodcock Nature Center, to see how species have responded to certain changes over the past 10 years. Areas that saw increased development, for example, may have less ecological activity now, Snow said.

“I think the topic of development and the effects it has on nature in Ridgefield is one of the main themes of the NRI, and I believe it requires data, which will develop as we go through this process,” she added.

Since climate change has likely impacted the catalog, too, the commission plans to test the water temperature, salinity and pH levels of Ridgefield’s vernal pools, which wasn’t done 10 years ago.

Vernal pools are depressions in woodland areas that have no inlet and outlet, essentially “a big puddle,” home to salamanders and frogs, Snow said. Measuring these factors is important to understanding if a given species can survive an evolving ecosystem.

The commission has also partnered with iNaturalist to give local nature lovers an active role in updating the NRI. Using the mobile app, residents can upload a picture of any species in Ridgefield — be it a tree, a flower, an insect or a mammal — which will automatically be recorded in the NRI’s database.

The commission has already completed an assessment of river bugs in inland streams and had Harbor Watch conduct water quality tests in the Great Swamp and the Norwalk River. Bird migration sightings are also on the books, including a waterfowl count at Bennetts Pond this weekend.

Spring ephemerals such as trout lily, trillium, Solomon’s seal and bloodroot will be counted on the third Saturday in April, Snow said.

A nesting bird count is planned for June, and a “bio blitz” program to assess the insects of Weir Pond is planned for June 11. Local moths and butterflies will be studied in July and August, respectively.

Commission members collect data with the help of students from Western Connecticut State University and Pace University. Seniors enrolled in environmental studies at Ridgefield High School also lend a hand.

Snow encouraged residents to contact the commission at conservation@ridgefieldct.org if they’re interested in becoming citizen scientists.

“They’re contributing to the history of the town if they help, and that’s kind of a cool thing,” she said.

For more information about the NRI and a full list of upcoming programs, visit www.ridgefieldct.org.