Lloyd Hann Trip to the Funk Islands, with Wildlife Division Biologist, Dr Leslie Tulk, 1952

The Funk Islands, located about 30 miles from Cape Freels, was one of the richest fishing grounds around Newfoundland, and also one of the largest bird habitats, inhabited by millions of birds.

During my early boyhood days I heard many interesting and colourful stories about birds and fish, and about the treacherous shoals around the Funks.  I remember a veteran fishing skipper from Wesleyville writing to the papers and contacting government officials about the importance and urgency of having a lighthouse and foghorn installed on the Funks.  I think it was promised many times before elections, but it never did materialize.

I always looked forward to visiting the Funks.  The opportunity came in the summer of 1952 when biologists from the Wildlife Division chartered my boat, the Red Wing Chief, to go there for a bird survey.  They were Dr. Les Tulk, a Newfoundlander, and an assistant from Ontario.  Ken Wicks from Wesleyville and Claude Spurrell from Badger’s Quay were crew members.  Ken was the cook and deckhand, and wheelsman, and Claude was mate, engineer, and whatever else was required.

We left Wesleyville at sunrise.  The water was smooth and calm with a light southeast wind.  We ran into dense fog at Cape Freels Gull Island.  We set the log and continued on course.  The log was a regular taffrail log that registered nautical miles and tenths of miles.  The registering part of the log was a meter mounted on the taffrail, a governor wheel, and rotator on the end of a 20 fathom log line.  It was fairly accurate; however, whenever running in fog or dense weather we always kept a lookout.

As we neared the Funks, various species of birds could be seen flying around, many with bait in their beaks, all flying in the same direction.  I figured they were carrying food to the young on the island.

It wasn’t very long before the dim outline of the island was seen through the fog.  We were directly on course.  We circled the island and located a landing place referred to as the bench.  It was the only safe landing place on the island, and even in smooth water it required extreme caution.  We anchored the Red Wing Chief offshore and made landing with a 15 foot punt that could be handled very easily.

Claude jumped ashore first with the painter and secured the boat.  We then landed the two biologists with their equipment, and I went back on board the boat and checked the engine and other equipment to make sure everything was in readiness.  Ken then landed me on the island and went back on board to prepare a meal.

In the meantime the fog had cleared, and it was a beautiful sunny day.  The island was covered from end to end with hundreds of thousands of birds of various species.  There was scarcely a clear foothold anywhere; one would have to shuffle through the birds.  If you lifted your feet and walked there was a danger of stepping on them.  There seemed to be as many birds flying around as there were on the island, and also thousands in the water.  The screeching was continuous, making it difficult to carry on a conversation.

The biologists’ purpose in visiting the Funks was to get a fair estimate of the numbers of various species, and also to tag the turrs.  Claude and I helped in the tagging.  We cleared away a ledge (everything was covered with guano), sat down and started tagging.  We didn’t move off the ledge for three hours.  The turrs were so thick that all you had to do was reach down, pick one up and snap a tag on its leg.  We tagged 900 while the biologists were taking pictures and making notes.

While we were on the island Ken was on board the Red Wing Chief preparing meals and baking bread.  He was an excellent chef, having served for years as chef on CN Railway boats.  He could prepare a meal that would melt in your mouth.  He was also a good seaman who could steer a true course, splice a rope, and handle moving lines and other things related to the operation of a boat.

Ken was also a good gunner and could be depended on for a meal of birds.  It was only natural for him to want to shoot a few for a tasty meal, but the chief biologist, Dr. Tulk, said that shooting the turrs was strictly prohibited.  Ken was surprised and disappointed and argued that one or two birds wouldn’t be missed from the tens of thousands flying around.  After Ken lavished about the tasty meal he would produce, it made one’s mouth water, and Dr. Tulk reluctantly agreed to let him shoot a meal of birds.  It wasn’t long before Ken had his gun ready, and he shot what he considered a choice turr; and what do you know, it was one that had been tagged the day before, and all the data regarding it had to be recorded and reported, causing extra paperwork.

We spent three days and nights on and around the Funk Islands, tagging turrs and compiling data.  After leaving the Funks we headed north bound for Labrador, where we carried out many bird surveys along the shore, the inland bays and the offshore islands, wherever birds could be found.

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