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Native Animals and Birds

We cannot describe every mammal, bird, and reptile that can turn up in the St Georges Basin area. There are far too many. So we have made a selection based on our personal experiences which we hope you will find interesting. The order is not significant. As you will discover if you read the text we are not necessarily complimentary about the characteristics of all Australian native creatures but we must remember that, particularly in the suburbs, they are surviving in a non-natural environment and their habits are influenced or dictated by humans.The list below gives our selection using their common names. If you are interested in scientific names and in the science of taxonomy click on the link here.


Blue tongue lizard  

We have chosen to show an image of a Blue Tongue lizard because they are reptiles we have come to admire and have put first on our list.

Blue Tongue Lizard

Somehow Blue Tongue lizards seem to survive in our suburbs. This is in spite of their size which makes them easily visible, and their slow moving nature which causes them to get run over by cars and lawnmowers, bitten by dogs, and slashed by whipper snippers. Fortunately most of the time they tend to adopt a hideaway in a pipe or under a rock and keep within a safe distance from this sanctuary. If you are lucky enough to have a resident Blue Tongue in your garden or one pays you a visit then provide it with several shelter sites. Of course, being reptiles they like to lie in the sun sometimes and their favourite shelter site is usually chosen with this in mind. However, in spring which is the mating season, they tend to move around more. The adult lizards can be quite large (the one in the image is over 30 cm long and is a medium sized adult) and this aids in protection from some predators; kookaburras for example.

Female Blue Tongues give birth to live young which arrive in their own birth sac. This usually occurs in January or February, the hottest time of the year. There can be as many as two dozen, but more commonly about half this number. Unfortunately some of the young lizards are likely to become lunch for a kookaburra or currawong; or they may get mauled by a cat or dog. The mortality rate is quite high which explains why the birth numbers are high.

Each lizard has its own individual skin pattern but you need to see more than one at once to appreciate this. Being reptiles they occasionally shed their skin to allow growth. The new skin is always brighter than the old, and the pattern more obvious. All in all, they make good and interesting creatures to have in the garden. They will help keep the down the snail population but you must remember not to use snail bait. If there isn't enough natural food they will eat bits of reasonably ripe banana or small amounts of uncooked mince.

Occasionally Blue Tongue lizards are handed in to the Native Animal Network Association (NANA); usually after being mauled by a dog or injured on the road. Their recovery is dependent on the severity of their injuries.

Possums and Gliders

Sugar glider

Sugar Gliders (Petaurus breviceps) sometimes visit suburban gardens where there are mature trees close to bush areas. They are a small, tree-dwelling, blue-grey, nocturnal marsupial, and have a bushy, non-prehensile tail nearly 20 cm in length. There is a black stripe running from the nose, over the head and finishing about half-way down the back. The underside of the animal is creamy white while the tail tip is black. They get the first part of their name from their habit of biting the bark of eucalypts (especially bloodwoods) and acacias to get a sweet sugary sap. This is not their only source of food; for example, they also eat insects and insect larvae, spiders, eggs, small lizards, pollen and nectar from flowers, and fruit.

The second part of their name comes from their ability to glide (rather than jump) from tree to tree. Sugar Gliders can glide amazing distances - up to 50 metres. This gliding ability is made possible by a furred membrane stretching from the fifth finger of the front foot to the ankle of the back leg. By extending its legs the membrane is stretched tight to provide an aerofoil surface. The Glider's tail acts as a rudder when in flight.

Sugar Gliders are social animals. A small number of related adults and their offspring may form a family group which nest together during the day and forage for food at night. Nests are usually in a hollow portion of in a tree but a nesting box may be accepted. There will be a dominant male who defines the group's territory using his scent glands and the group will defend its territory against another Sugar Glider group. The dominant male is usually the only male in the group to mate. Females usually produce two offspring which spend 9 or 10 weeks in the pouch, and another month in the nest. After this they will cling on to their mother's coat..

Sugar Gliders have many enemies. For example, they are preyed on by owls, goannas, foxes, cats, and dogs. Meanwhile we humans destroy their habitat. If you would like to build a nesting box for a possum or glider (or a bird) see the reference at the bottom of this section.

Yellow-bellied glider

Possums, especially the brush-tailed possum, can be quite common in the suburbs in regional areas. Because of their habitat requirement gliders are much less common. This glider (Petaurus australia) is listed as a Vulnerable Species in NSW and is the largest member of the Petaurus genus. Petaurus is a word meaning "rope dancer" ! Being nocturnal and inhabiting open, tall, mature forested areas it is difficult to view the Yellow-bellied Glider; spot-lights are usually required. It has grey fur above and is white to yellow underneath. It has large, bare, pointed ears which are an aid to distinguishing it from the Greater Glider. Males and females are similar. The furry, bushy, tail is long, about one and a half times the head plus body length which is typically from a quarter to a third of a metre. So typically the animal is about three quarters of a metre nose to tail-tip. It weighs up to 700 g. Being a glider it has a membrane which stretches from wrist to ankle and allows it to glide distances of up to 140 m.

Yellow-bellied Gliders are social marsupials, living in small family groups of up to five members. They are usually quite vocal with a call resembling a high-pitched shriek ending in a sort of a rattle. The calls probably proclaim territory, help the family stay in touch, and warn of danger. During the day the gliders rest in leaf-lined nests in tree hollows - hence the need for mature trees. Their diet consists of the nectar from flowering eucalypts and the sugary sap obtained by incising (biting) the bark of the eucalypts. These incisions are often V-shaped or triangular, and some preferred trees can show many incision marks. Sometimes insects from under the bark are eaten. In order to obtain enough food the group requires a significant area - perhaps 50 hectares (half a square kilometre). However, animals can readily travel a kilometre (gliding from tree to tree) in search of food. There is usually only one young which is born in the winter/early spring and remains in the pouch for up to 100 days.

Threats to the yellow-bellied gliders are the (1) loss and fragmentation of the mature eucalypt forest, (2) predation by foxes and cats, and (3) bushfires. Two population surveys in the St Georges Basin area have recently been undertaken - in 2003 and 2006. The later survey suggests that threat (1) having an effect.

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Honeyeaters (Red wattlebird, Rainbow lorikeet, Spinebill)

Honeyeaters are distinctly Australian birds and are found in most parts of the country. They all have a brush tipped tongue which can usually be extended beyond the bill tip and which they use to collect sugary fluids, such as nectar. However, one should note that all honeyeaters include a few insects in their diets.Honeyeaters are important pollinators of Australian native flora. Where we give a size for a bird it is an average for that particular species and the measurement is from bill tip to tail tip.

Red Wattlebird

The Red Wattlebird (about 36 cm) is one of the most common honeyeaters in our suburban gardens and the local bush. It gets its name from the red wattles which hang on the side of its face. It is a slender, grey-brown bird with white streaks, a black head, a yellowish belly, and pink legs. The female is similar but slightly smaller, while the juveniles are smaller and browner. Sometimes the Red Wattlebird is confused with the Little or Brush Wattlebird which looks similar at first glance but has no wattles.

These nectar feeders are very territorial, the males proclaiming their "patch" in a raucous voice. They are very agressive towards other birds and will chase off those of a similar size or smaller, even if they are not nectar feeders. They will also scold larger birds such as kookaburras, rosellas, and currawongs in some situations. Wattlebirds are attracted to plants such as banksia and eucalypts when in flower, and to the large flowering grevillea cultivars which are very popular these days in suburban gardens. If your garden is a standard backyard and part of their territory you will probably find that you do not see too many small birds. If you want to have the small birds try getting rid of the grevilleas with the large flowers.

Rainbow Lorikeet

Lorikeets (about 28 cm) are unusual parrots in that they are nectar feeders. The Rainbow Lorikeet is the most common lorikeet in this part of Australia. They tend to be noisy and gregarious, and groups are often to be seen, and heard, clambering over the flowers of eucalypts and grevillea cultivars screeching at one and other. Perhaps because they usually feed in groups Rainbow Lorikeets seem to be able to ignore the attempts of wattlebirds to scare them off. They are one of the most brightly coloured birds in our region with a blue head above a yellow-green collar, a red bill, and red and yellow chest changing abrubtly to a violet-blue abdomen. Their back and tail feathers are green and when in flight one can see that the underside of the wings are orange. Little surprise that their name associates them with the rainbow.

It is possible to buy a special sugary porridge-like mix to feed and hence attract Rainbow Lorikeets but this is not always to be recommended. Feeding wild birds tends to make them dependent on humans, more vulnerable to predators such as cats, and leads to diseases brought on by restricted diets. Lorikeets enjoy a bath and this is a usually a communal and noisy business. A birdbath is a worthwhile addition to any garden - but remember to replenish the water reasonably frequently. Also, to protect the birds from predation by cats the bird baths should be placed on the top of a pole.


The Spinebill is more properly called the Eastern Spinebill. It is a small bird (about 15 cm) with a long, thin, gently down-curving bill; a feature which aids identification. Only the Western Spinebill is similar but the areas of habitat do not overlap so that there is no confusion. Spinebills can be found in both forest and heathland and, thankfully, in our suburban gardens. Evolution has made their long bills suitable for probing deep into flowers for nectar, a characteristic which allows them to feed from flowers which are ignored by the wattlebirds and the lorikeets. However, if they try and feed on the large flowering grevilleas in the territory of a wattlebird they are very nervous in behaviour and will probably be driven off. Spectacular behaviour which one may occasionally see is a spinebill hovering like a humming bird while it is feeding.

The male spinebill has a black head and bill, a white throat and chin, and a cinnamon-brown chest and belly - quite striking when you get a good look at the bird. The female is similar except that the head colouring is lighter. Nests are small cups in small trees or bushes where there is plenty of cover.

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More correctly, in our area, we are talking about the Pied Currawong but in the following text we shall omit the adjective. The currawong is a large (about 45 cm) black crow-like bird commonly found in suburban gardens and forests on the Australian East Coast. It has white patches on its wings, tail and underside - hence the adjective "pied". It has a bright yellow eye and a large black bill. Males and females are identical. Although crow-like in appearance the currawong is not a member of the crow family; rather it is related to magpies and butcherbirds. The currawong is one of the native birds whose life has been altered by us humans. Currawongs used to migrate from the tablelands and upland areas where they bred in spring and summer, to winter in the lowlands. Nowadays many currawongs remain in or near suburbia all year round because of a plentiful food supply from exotic plants in our gardens - for example plants such as privet, cotoneaster, and hawthorn with berries in winter. Unfortunately currawongs aid the spread of such plants into the bush when they excrete the seeds.

The presence of currawongs throughout the year also has an effect on other nesting birds in the area. They are notorious predators of the eggs and young of smaller birds. Of course, this is only a fraction of their diet. They also eat berries and fruit as mentioned above and insects, frogs, lizards and carrion. Currawongs, in fact, are omniverous. They are quite intelligent and can copy the eating habits of other birds. We have seen them trying to get nectar from large flowering grevilleas as would a lorikeet or wattlebird. Also we have seen them pulling seed pods from a fruiting bush as a parrot might do. Not surprisingly they will also take food provided by humans but this is not to be recommended. Currawongs should not be encouraged.


Instead of a formal description here is an account from two of us who are lucky enough to have a satin bowerbird in our backgarden.

Living with a Bower bird: Its been a few years now since the male Satin Bower bird came to stay in our small semi-urban backyard. Excitement for us to see the bower being built and what an achievement. Fine twigs gathered and broken to the size needed, then pushed into the ground to achieve a neat arch shaped bower which, according to bird books, always faces north south. This fact appears to be true as we have checked many bowers and have found if it is not correctly positioned then it is changed until it is exactly right. The area around the bower is a matt of fine twigs, decorated with dozens of blue items of all descriptions (blue pegs, bottle tops, ribbon, etc) which have been collected from around the neighbourhood. Sometimes a cream coloured item is sneaked in but mostly blue.

When the female Bower bird is enticed to this decorated love nest, the male sets up a chirring sound and proceeds to dance around, shaking his feathers and picking up his blue treasures to impress his visitor and show what a splendid catch he would be. If the female decides he is the one, she goes through the bower and allows mating. She leaves to build a nest, lay the eggs and raise her young on her own. The male then sets about enticing in his next female conquest.

From our observations it's clear the Satin Bower bird is a bit of a mimic, able to copy sounds he has heard. We have often been misled, with a bird call, thinking we have a new small bird in the garden, only to find it's the bowerbird making a new sound. Although the mating chirring sound is always unmistakable.

We believe our bowerbird feels this is his home, has become quite used to us being around, so allows us to come very close and ignores our presence. His presence adds another delightful dimension to our native plant garden, built to attract native birds and animals. The bower has been in the yard for over 5 years, and as we know it takes about 6 years before the male changes, from the green/brown colour of immature and female bowerbirds, to the wonderful shining blue black of the mature male, we believe he should now be about 11. Just another pleasurable part of having a native garden, with many local native plants.

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Blue Wren

What we call the Blue wren is more correctly the Superb Fairy-wren, a small (about 14 cm bill tip to tail tip), cock-tailed bird. Fairy wrens are restricted to Australia and New Guinea. The Blue wren is so small that it may not be noticed by everybody but it is a wonderful bird and is to be found in the Bay and Basin area. Once common, the little battlers are now restricted to small parcels of thick bush on the edge of urban areas, only occasionally venturing into gardens. But this can be hazardous and they soon retreat if threatened.

These insectivorous birds derive their name from the bright blue colour of the breeding male. His crown and upper back are bright blue, his tail dark blue. Breast, throat and lower back are black, underparts off-white. The females, immature/juveniles and non-breeding males are usually a light dullish brown, although non-breeding males do have a dark blue tail. This social little bird, lives in groups with their own territory. Some shaped nests are usually found in bush or thick undergrowth with two to five eggs lain. Wrens usually breed more than once per season as a very high mortality rate keeps numbers down, due to the fact they are often found on the ground and can run foul of snakes and cats.

With an ever increasing desire by many people to have a formal garden without cover, most birds will be driven into small pockets of remnant bush. Can you attract these small birds back to the garden? It is possible, but it means you may have to leave your garden a little on the wild side. Leave a few ferns, some native shrubs and perhaps put up a water bowl. Try to keep domestic pets controlled and you could be rewarded with sightings of our own unique Superb blue Fairy-wrens. What a name,……..and……..what a bird.

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Glossy Black-Cockatoo

At 48 cm this cockatoo is the smallest member of the black-cockatoo family and in NSW is listed as a vulnerable species. Both male and female look similar at a distance having dull black plumage with red tail panels. Closer inspection shows differences – the female has irregular yellow patches around the head and neck, her tail panels are more orange than red and are barred with black stripes. Immature birds are similar to the female but usually have small yellow spots on the breast.

In appearance (although not in size) the Glossy Black is similar to the Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo but the ranges of the two dont overlap except in southern Queensland. If you see a black cockatoo with red in its tail at St Georges Basin it is a Glossy Black! However, much more commonly seen in the Basin area is the Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo. The Glossy Black is found in open forests east of the Great Dividing Range south from Rockhampton into Victoria. Small isolated groups are to be found as far west as Dubbo and Griffith where suitable habitat exists. An isolated sub-species of the Glossy Black was present in South Australia when Europeans first arrived but is now restricted to Kangaroo Island where it is a listed endangered species (under South Australian legislation) because of the very small population. Supported by volunteers a recovery program has been underway for a number of years. This program has been successful in increasing the Glossy Black population from 162 in 1993 to 290 in 2003.

When it comes to nesting, as is the case with many birds, the Glossy Black depends on hollows in mature gum trees. Once paired the birds mate for life. Both adults prepare the nest by chewing pieces off the inside of the cavity to create a layer on the bottom. Incubation (one egg only), which lasts for about three months, and rearing of the nestling is the responsibility of the female. The male feeds the female during the incubation period. Juvenile birds are dependent on the adults for about one year.

The Glossy Black is the most specialised member of the black-cockatoo family. It is believed to be utterly dependent on seeds extracted from the cones of she-oaks (casuarinas) - in our area only the cones of the black she-oak (allocasuarina littoralis). If you observe a Glossy Black-Cockatoo feeding on anything other than a casuarina please inform us via the email address on the home page of this website. This dependence on one kind of casuarina obviously makes the Glossy Black very vulnerable to loss of habitat.

So it is up to us all to make ensure that there are plenty of black she-oaks and mature gum trees around.

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Surely all Australians know what an echidna looks like - a small porcupine or hedgehog-like animal covered in sharp spines. However, a closer look will discover coarse hair amongst the spines. Its common name is "spiny anteater" and is such an Australian icon that over the years it has appeared on our stamps and coins (presently on the 5 cent coin). But what else do we know about this unusual creature? First and foremost it is a monotreme - a mammal which lays eggs! The only other monotreme on the planet is the platypus. So this makes the echidna a very special animal.

There are two species of echidna - one inhabiting Australia and one New Guinea. The description given here applies to the Australian echidna. The echidna typically weighs about 5 kg although males tend to be a bit heavier. It has a long, stiff, hairless snout (7 or 8 cm long) which it uses as a tool to obtain its food - termites are a favourite - and short but strong legs with prominent claws which ensure it is an excellent digger. Claws and snout are used to tear open soft logs and termite mounds. The echidna's mouth is at the end of its snout on the underside. It has no teeth but uses its long sticky tongue to collect its food.

In general echidnas are solitary creatures but in the breeding season (spring) go searching for a mate and this is the time we are most likely to see them. The appearance of echidnas suggests that we shouldn't meddle with them but in fact they are timid and avoid confrontation, curl into a prickly ball, or quickly dig into the soil until only the back is exposed. This behaviour allows escape from predators (such as dingos, foxes, feral dogs, and eagles).

echidna encounter

During the breeding season the female echidna develops a pouch into which she lays a single egg. After hatching from the egg the tiny young echidna stays in the pouch and drinks milk from special pores in the mother's skin. In time the young echidna starts to grow spines and must leave the pouch. Now it learns to eat termites and ants but continues to drink its mother's milk until it is several months old.

The image shows a very fortunate encounter and the result of just standing still in the path of an approaching echidna. On this occasion the animal sniffed the wheel of a bicycle and the foot of its rider without showing any signs of alarm. However, such a meeting is not likely to happen too often.

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Australian Crayfish and the Yabby

Surely most Australians are familiar with the yabby, the name most commonly used in NSW for our freshwater crayfish; those lobster-like crustaceans living in creeks, dams, ponds, swamps and lakes? But note that crayfish tend to have different common names in different parts of Australia, e.g. lobby, redclaw, marron; and surprisingly there are over 100 different crayfish species in Australia!

Let's begin with some scientific information. All Australian freshwater crayfish belong to a taxonomic family known as Parastacoidea. Other members of this family are to be found in New Guinea (probably not too surprising), New Zealand, South America, and Madagascar which indicates a Gondwanaland connection. In Australia we have the world's largest and some of its smallest crayfish. In the Northern Hemisphere the family is known as Astacoidea. In general crayfish don't like their aquatic environment too hot and are not too be found in Central America, South-East Asia and the continent of Africa. Perhaps in time global warming will push crayfish polewards?

There are nine crayfish genera in Australia; and the two most well known are Cherax (smooth bodied crayfish) and Euastacus (spiny crayfish). Of these the genus Cherax is probably the best known, and is the most widespread; being found in Eastern, Northern and South-Western Australia. The Cherax destructor is commonly chosen for crayfish farming/aquaculture because it is fast growing and hardy. This species is the archetypal 'yabby' although it is also called the 'inland yabby' because it is most commonly found in waters on the western side of the Great Dividing Range. It gets is name from its habit of digging burrows, half to two metres in length, which sometimes create problems in the earthern walls of dams and irrigation channels. However, many crayfish species dig burrows. There are a considerable number of yabby farms in NSW and Victoria - over a hundred in each state. Yabbies are sold for the table, for stocking farm dams, for bait and for the aquarium trade. Other Cherax species may be farmed in Queensland and West Australia.

The genus Euastacus occurs in Eastern Australia including southern South Australia. This is the genus we are likely to find in the catchments of St Georges Basin, Jervis Bay, and Lake Conjola.

crayfish gastroliths

All crayfish have a hard outer shell (exoskeleton) composed of calcium carbonate but no internal skeleton. Their body is formed of three parts; head, thorax (the section with legs), and tail (the edible section). The carapace protects the both head and thorax. As the crayfish grows it must moult/shed its shell and grow a larger one. However, to do this it has to have a store of calcium to draw upon. It achieves this by growing a pair of gastroliths in its stomach prior to moulting. The gastroliths are composed of calcium carbonate and are used to build the new shell. The process is repeated throughout the life of the crayfish. Two pairs of gastroliths are shown in the image. Also the discarded shell may be eaten by the crayfish (or another crayfish) as an additional source of calcium. Just after moulting the crayfish is extremely vulnerable to predators as it no longer has its 'armour plating' to protect it. If the predator is a bird, such as a cormorant or heron, the two unedible gastroliths may be left behind beside the water to be found by a passer-by. This is the origin of the gastroliths shown in the image.

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Moon Snail

moon snail egg mass

What do you make of the object in the image alongside - a horseshoe shaped sausage of clear jelly? Perhaps you have come across such an object in the shallows beside a seaside beach or washed up on the shore. What is it? Well here is the explanation.

The sausage shaped jelly is the egg mass of a marine snail, commonly called a Moon Snail. The snail, a gastropod, is about 30 mm across - approximately the diameter of the "sausage". On a close examination one can see that there are many tiny specks in the jelly; these are the larva which will eventually become moon snails. Moon snails are to be found in many parts of the world including Australia. There are about 200 living species worldwide. Fossil shells have been found going back to the Cretaceous period. The gelatinous sausage in the image was found in St Georges Basin.

The scientific name of this moon snail is Polinices (Conuber) sordidus. Conuber is an alternative genus name. A complete description (see the page on scientific classification) is Kingdom: Animalia, Phylum: Mollusca, Class: Gastrapoda, Family: Naticidae, Genus: Polinices, Species: sordidus

Another interesting characteristic of moon snails is that they are carnivorous. They eat the insides of other shells; usually bivalves such as pipis, mussels, or cockles. They do this by boring a small circular hole in the shell of their prey using a hard tongue-like organ known as a radula. This organ may also secrete an acid to aid the creation of the hole which will probably appear "countersunk". The soft tissue is then consumed.

Recently a researcher at the Dept of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland, reports that moon snails are even more predatory than believed. The researcher observed, for the first time ever, a soldier crab being ambushed by a moon snail. If soldier crabs are a component of the snail's diet we can think of them as a significant predator of the sand and mud flats.

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Australian Land Snail

So what have we here? Looks like a snail, but not like the ones we find eating our garden vegetables. Well, you are correct, it isn't a common (feral) garden snail. Rather it is a native Australian land snail; one out of a total of more than 2000 different species! The majority live in rainforests but a few (such as this one) are to be found in bushland. This particular type of snail is unusual, although not unique, in that it cannot withdraw all its body inside its shell.


Because of this it is known as a semi-slug. In this image part of the snail's mantle covers a portion of the pale-yellow coloured shell. The snail is about 3 cm in length and the shell 12 cm in diameter.

Like all snails and slugs this snail has two eye stalks which are visible in the image. Below these are two much shorter stalks (not visible here) which are used for smelling. The mouth is below the two pairs of stalks. Snails lay eggs which develop into tiny versions of the adults; as they grow their shells grow correspondingly. Snails are hermaphrodites (they have both male and female reproductive organs). However, self-fertilisation does not occur; another snail of the same species being necessary to produce fertile eggs.

This particular snail is Helicarion mastersi. The taxonomy is as follows: Kingdom: animalia, Phylum: Mollusca, Class: Gastropoda, Order: Stylommatophora, Family: Armadilloidea, Genus: Helicarion, Species: mastersi

Identification acknowledgements go to: Lisa Kirkendale of the University of Wollongong, and John Stanisic and Darryl Potter at the Queensland Museum.

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Contact Information

Native Animal Network Association (NANA) The website is www.nana.asn.au
all enquiries including membership - 0418 427 214
Postal Address - PO Box 2191, TOMERONG, NSW 2540


Simpson, K & Day, N, 6th edition Field Guide to the Birds of Australia Viking 1999 {ISBN 0 670 87918 5}
Stanisic, J., Shea. M., Potter, D. & Griffith, O. Australian Land Snails Vol. 1. A field guide to eastern Australian species Queensland Museum 2010 {ISBN 9789994932245}
The Nestbox Book Gould League of Victoria 1997 {ISBN 1 876687 34 3}
Merrick, J, Freshwater Crayfish of NSW Linnean Society of NSW 1993 {ISBN 0 9590 535 1 4}

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