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Jeff Lampe

Jeff Lampe has been outdoor writer at the Journal Star in Peoria for 12 duck seasons. He lives in Elmwood with his wife Monica, sons Henry, Victor and Walter, and Llewellin setter Hawkeye. A native of Buffalo, N.Y., he is an avid fan of the Bills and still has mental scars from four consecutive Super Bowl losses. Outside of hunting and fishing, Lampe's main passion in Illinois was Class A boys basketball (which sadly no longer exists). Former publisher of the Class A Weekly newsletter, Lampe is a co-author of "100 Years of Madness" and "Classical Madness," both books focusing on prep basketball in Illinois.

Illinois Outdoors


A Web log by Jeff Lampe of the Journal Star

Scattershooting at tornados and raspberries

June 10, 2010 at 11:46 PM

Rambling through the outdoors pondering how many critter casualties a tornado causes.


Shortly after 8 p.m. last Saturday, while surveying downed trees and a crushed truck topper and boarding up a window, it occurred to me that June is the best month to leave Elmwood for vacation. Sure that means missing the Strawberry Festival, a few hundred baseball games and Coach Valla’s hoops camp. But on the flip side ... Terrible June storms in two consecutive years? Come on. Odds are better the Buffalo Bills will win a Super Bowl or North Korea will claim the World Cup. ... Among the many wild tornado tales is one from Dan Kelch of Kickapoo, who found a canoe in his lake along Illinois Route 8 after the storm. Turns out the tornado transported the canoe more than a mile before dropping the boat to float as if launched by a paddler. There’s no truth to rumors Kelch raffled off the canoe to raise funds for the Independent Sports Club. ... One welcome sight was seeing so many people willing to help others. As much as a tornado stuns with its cruel power, the aftermath can be a wonderful reminder of mankind’s goodness.


Free fishing days are here through Monday, meaning anglers can wet a line in Illinois without a license, trout stamp or salmon stamp. If you’ve been meaning to take the kids fishing, now’s the time. ... What’s biting? Minister Morris sayeth catfish and bluegill are best bets. Then, as is his wont, he rambled on about “fishers of men” or some such preacher talk. Once we restored his focus to what really matters, he noted dipbait is the ticket for whiskered bottom dwellers. ... This week our free-roaming feline caught a fledgling robin in the yard and had every bird around squawking. Even a squirrel joined in the ruckus. While the robin was rescued, my offer stands: Anybody want a barn cat? Being a cat-hating hypocrite hurts. ... Speaking of young worm eaters, Bob and Ramona Fisher have a white robin in their yard in the Wee-ma-Tuk subdivision. “He flies well but his momma still brings him worms,” Ramona said. Apparently white or partially white robins are not uncommon. But they are easier for predators to spot, which may explain why they don’t last for long.


Good news out of Springfield is that the Department of Natural Resources finally hired a replacement for turkey biologist Jerry Garver, who retired in 2002. The new biologist starts Wednesday, capping the longest hiring processes in DNR history. Hopefully the new Gobbler Guru will allocate more spring hunting permits and add new counties to the fall hunting list. ... Bob Platt returned from Lake Erie on Sunday with enough walleye filets to feed his hometown of Sparland for a week. Fishing out of Port Clinton, Ohio, for 10 days, Platt and his crew had limits every day and averaged 20-25 walleye per outing. Their largest was a 28.5-incher and most measured 19-24 inches. ... No crowing: As Iowa’s acreage enrolled in the conservation reserve program has declined, so has its pheasant hunting. Last year 74,000 hunters in the Hawkeye State shot a record-low 271,000 roosters — down 29 percent from last year’s worst-ever harvest. Sadly that downward trend will likely continue after a harsh winter and wet spring. As recently as 2005 Iowa was at or near 1 million roosters per season.


While there have been no recent bear sightings in Bureau County, at least one biologist thinks bears could eventually colonize parts of Illinois. “I think southern Illinois could have a bear population if people allowed it,” said Eric Hellgren, a wildlife ecologist in the Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory at Southern Illinois University. “There’s plenty of bear habitat in the Shawnee National Forest.” In January Hellgren and associates start a research project focusing on the return of large carnivores to Illinois. Word is this may be a precursor to affording some protection for bears, wolves and cougars in the Illinois Wildlife Code. ... We’ve heard two unconfirmed reports of a wolf supposedly photographed near Sheffield last weekend. So far no picture has surfaced. We have seen odd photos of dead rodents hanging high up in a tree near Joe Aspan’s East Peoria home. That one has me scratching my head. ... Parting shot: Mulberries are ripe and black raspberries should be pickable this weekend. Get ready for cobbler and ice cream to cap a meal of bluegill filets.

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Illinois hunting and fishing

June 10: Picture of the Day

June 10, 2010 at 01:22 PM

Somebody told me the other day that this feature ought to be renamed, “Bird Picture of the Day.”

And they had a point. At the same time, they illustrated something I’ve argued many times before: If you are a hunter or angler and you don’t enjoy watching birds, you are missing out on an awful lot.

Fact of the matter is, for every deer, turkey, coyote, fox or bear you spot, you could probably have watched a few hundred birds. They are everywhere. And the more you hunt and fish, the more you start to see birds that you won’t see in town. For me, all those birds sightings help pass the time between critter sightings. Plus, they make me feel more in tune with the world around me.

When a bird is no longer just “a bird” but can be quantified as a species, well that somehow becomes more meaningful. The experience of seeing “a bird” is not nearly as exciting as the experience of seeing “a bobolink.”

That’s why I’ve had so much fun these past two months driving around along the backroads near grassy fields and ditches and seeing what is there. Some days there’s little more than red-winged blackbirds. Other days are rich with life. Lately, I’ve been on a good run with quail, like this cooperative rascal. While there’s no way to prove this, I’ve got to believe this is the same bobwhite cock I photographed a few weeks ago. Only this morning he was perched on the south side of the road, about 100 yards from his last perch.

Actually, he almost didn’t make the cut today. Other photo options included a 13-lined ground squirrel, a bobolink, a meadowlark, a mallard drake, a blue heron and a trio of red-winged blackbird fledglings who spent most of their time pooping (one even captured on camera). The boys liked the latter shot. And I’m glad. That tells me they might also be birdwatchers.

And in the years to come, when fishing or hunting gets slow, they’ll have plenty of other ways to enjoy the outdoors.

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