Eye on Nature: Ethna Viney’s final column after 33 years

Ethna Viney’s answers to your queries have formed one of The Irish Times’s longest-running series

This week’s Eye on Nature is Ethna Viney’s final column for The Irish Times. She retires today after a long career in journalism. Ethna has been writing Eye on Nature since 1988, making it one of the longest-running Irish Times columns. (Her husband Michael’s Another Life is one of the few that predates it.)

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

Through this column, Ethna has been a pioneer of what is now called user-generated content, accepting queries first by post and then by email, and answering them in the newspaper and on irishtimes.com.

To her readers, Ethna says: “I have appreciated very much all the correspondents that sent in such interesting letters and emails to Eye on Nature. Without them there wouldn’t have been a column.”


On behalf of The Irish Times and its readers, I extend my deepest thanks to Ethna for her years of service and wish her every happiness. – Paul O'Neill, Editor

Ethna Viney’s final Eye on Nature: Lazy cygnets and a garden gnome

I noticed my garden gnome had grown a moustache. On further investigation I saw loads of minute spiders with yellow colouring. What are they? Olga Horan, Castle Island, Co Kerry They are the spiderlings of the common garden spider, which spins a large web among the foliage.

Two lazy cygnets hitched a ride while their siblings followed in the water in Tallaght's Sean Walsh Park. This pair of swans had six cygnets this year, as opposed to two last year. Mary Jenner, Tallaght, Dublin 24

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

I caught a trout on Lough Corrib and it came aboard with its own passenger attached. The discoloured area and the perforation is where it sucked the blood. – Damien Maguire, Maynooth, Co Kildare That was a leech.

I came across this growth on a mature street-side tree in Drumcondra. What is it, and will it damage the tree? – Paudie Galvin, Drumcondra, Dublin 9 The chicken of the woods is the fruiting body of a fungus that attacked the heart wood of the tree, possibly many years before it appeared. It will weaken the tree, leading to other diseases.

I saw this little group of eggs on Roney beach, and I think they are those of the ringed plover. Unfortunately, I fear they will not survive, as there is coastal-protection work close by, and the beach is very busy with walkers and dogs. – Valerie Duffy, Wexford Yes, they are ringed plover eggs.

I noticed wilting and holes in the leaves of my potted lilies; then I saw a red beetle on it. What was it? Anne Drislane, Clontarf, Dublin 3 It was the scarlet lily beetle, an invasive alien brought in on imported plants. It damages the plant, so get rid of it.