A few years ago, when I was talking with Win Pietsch about the rich frog life in part of the Mt William Ck wetlands by our place, she replied: “Oh yes, Thelma and I were there the other night, we’ve been surveying it for years” … This really impressed me! Win’s keen interest in nature, and dedication to scientific research, resonated deeply; I also realised that, although she is still an active member, many current FOGGies probably don’t know much about the work of Win and her fellow enthusiasts – ‘citizen scientists’ – who over the years have added so much to our knowledge and understanding of the nature around us.
This started the germ of an idea: to write this article! What follows is an abbreviated “CV” of an amazing naturalist.
One of the most rewarding aspects about going to FOGG outings is the wealth of shared expertise in the group, and the sharing of knowledge. Whether orchids, shrimps, skinks or bats, it is a voyage of discovery and understanding.
Win is one of those who generously shares their vast knowledge and experience in many types of natural life. She has been involved in extensive studies all her adult life; a lot with formal organisations, but frequently with her friend and fellow enthusiast Thelma Argyll (another very knowledgeable local).
Like many of her generation, Win started collecting the Tynee Tips bird cards, which inspired her to join the Bird Observers’ Club. Encouraged by the enthusiasm of a local Dairy Inspector and a Priest in Yea in the ‘70s she joined Field Nats; a group she continued to follow as she moved around.
With the Stawell Field Nats and Cliff Beauglehole, Win took part in collecting, mounting and labelling a huge number of local indigenous plants and grasses, that were then donated to Parks in Halls Gap. Digitising these would be a valuable project in which FOGGs may well be involved.
Win and fellow Nats also worked with:
- Mammal surveys with Ian McCann; setting traps for squirrel gliders, reptiles, frogs and spiders – counting and naming species.
- Fungimap, founded by the Royal Botanic Gardens; following Ian McCann’s death in 2003, Win became responsible for collating and sending in the local group’s data.
- Birds on Farms surveys: in six areas in and around the Grampians.
- The Wimmera Community Waterwatch Programme, contributing physical and chemical data sheets post-2006 fires – taking records of temperature, phosphate levels, hardness, ph, EC (electrical conductivity) and turbidity;
- Grampfire – a monitoring programme for Fire Impacted River Ecology – Win only ceased this in her 95th year!
- Wimmera Catchment Water Authority.
These all involved recording water life, including those frogs at the Lake Lonsdale causeway. There she noticed a decrease in damselfly larvae following dry years, but then, after the 2011 flood, the Lake Lonsdale studies became less interesting with the introduced mosquito fish taking over from native species.
She has worked with Noushka in Horsham on the successful reintroduction of the Brilliant Sun-orchid Thelymitra mackibbinii.
Win knows the locations of many species of orchid in and around the Grampians – too many to list here. On one group outing, she stopped the cars from pulling up randomly at a roadside, “Don’t park there! 5 species of orchids grow there!” Sure enough, they found all five … including Elbow and Duck orchids. I think she’s also found the occasional plot of Marihuana!
As part of a study for ensuring the survival of the critically endangered Pimelea spinescens, Win has been responsible for recording plant numbers in a plot which she and Thelma discovered at Deep Lead. She also recognised the Fireweed Senecio macrocarpa, classed as vulnerable in Illawarra, when she headed towards a log to sit down and have a rest ….
Add to Win’s collection of flora studies the Pink flowering Yellow Box, extremely rare and isolated; the Purple Diuris, Diuris punctata var punctata, now protected by fencing at Lake Fyans; and many other species. She continues to work on plant lists in the Three Jacks Reserve.
In other parts of Australia, Win reported the 1st sighting the Painted Firetail Finch at Cameron’s Corner since 1896; she participated in surveys of the Mallee Fowl, the rare and endangered Golden Shouldered Parrot in Queensland, and the critically endangered Orange Bellied Parrot In the Coorong (migrating from Tasmania in the non-breeding winter months, this parrot is one of only 3 species of migrating parrots in Australia).
Thanks to Win’s knowledge of bugs, she was able to tell Denis Crawford she recognized a male Bird of Paradise Fly when it landed beside her; many of us would have thought it was a dandelion head. Look out for it, it is the most delicate and exotic of (male) bugs.
Snails! …. Win received a delighted letter of thanks from Fred W. Ashton of Mt Gambier, after sending him a bag of leaf litter from the Grampians; she couldn’t see any snail shells, but he found shells from 69 species, size range 0.05-2.0 mm. Snails prefer certain types of eucalypts and other plants, depending on depth of leaf litter, bark type, and shelter – lots to learn about snails!
Win’s always been quick to put her hand up and take on many voluntary hours of meticulous work, studies way beyond ‘cut-off’ dates, and documenting her observations in all areas of nature to a high level of expertise. It is her enthusiasm and continued delight in discovering more about nature which are inspirational.
Thanks to Judy McPhee for help with all our ‘interviews’ but all mistakes are mine.