Ethna Viney’s last column after 33 years

Eye on Nature This week is Ethna Viney’s latest column for The Irish Times. She is retiring today after a long career in journalism. Ethna has been writing Eye on Nature since 1988, making it one of The Irish Times’ oldest columns. (Her husband Michael’s Another life is one of the few to be earlier.)

She wrote her first articles for The Irish Times in 1963-64, on changes to the Anglo-Irish trade agreements.

Through this column, Ethna pioneered what is now called user-generated content, accepting queries first by mail, then by email, and responding to them in the newspaper and on

To her readers, Ethna says: “I very much appreciated all the correspondents who sent such interesting letters and emails to Eye on Nature. Without them there would have been no column.

On behalf of The Irish Times and its readers, I extend my sincere thanks to Ethna for her years of service and wish her all the best. – Paul O’Neill, editor

Ethna Viney’s Last Eye on Nature: Lazy Cygnets and a Garden Gnome

Why did my garden gnome suddenly grow facial hair?

I noticed that my garden gnome had grown a mustache. Upon further investigation, I saw piles of tiny spiders with yellow coloring. What are they? Olga Horan, Castle Island, Co Kerry

These are the spiders of the common garden spider, which spins a large web among the foliage.

Swans and cygnets

Swans and cygnets

Two lazy cygnets hitchhiked while their siblings followed through the water in Sean Walsh Park in Tallaght. This pair of swans had six cygnets this year, compared to two last year. Mary Jenner, Tallaght, Dublin 24

White hyacinths

White hyacinths

I recently came across six of these beautiful white hyacinths in a local hazel forest. I believe the incidence is one in 10,000. Michael Brogan, Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo

Trout and leech

Trout and leech

I caught a trout on Lough Corrib and it got on board with its own passenger strapped in. The discolored area and the puncture is where it sucked blood. – Damien Maguire, Maynooth, Co Kildare

It was a leech.

Chicken of the woods mushroom

Chicken of the woods mushroom

I came across this growth on a mature tree by the side of the street in Drumcondra. What is it and will it damage the tree? – Paudie Galvin, Drumcondra, Dublin 9

Chicken of the woods is the fruiting body of a fungus that has attacked the wood of the heart of the tree, perhaps several years before its appearance. This will weaken the tree, leading to other diseases.

Ringed plover eggs

Ringed plover eggs

I saw this little cluster of eggs on Roney Beach, and I think they are ringed plover. Unfortunately I fear they will not survive as there is some coastal protection work nearby and the beach is very busy with walkers and dogs. – Valérie Duffy, Wexford

Yes, they are ringed plover eggs.

I have noticed wilting and holes in the leaves of my potted lilies; then I saw a red beetle on it. what was that? Anne Drislane, Clontarf, Dublin 3

It was the scarlet lily beetle, an invasive alien introduced to imported plants. It damages the plant, so get rid of it.

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