Wayne County: Coffey Marsh

coffeyI appreciate an attempt to bring back something good that’s been lost. Coffey Marsh accomplishes that, twice over.

I heard about this wetland because of a news release by the Iowa DNR when they reintroduced Trumpeter Swans to the site. With a 6-foot wingspan, these birds are the largest North American waterfowl. Though once common, they were gone from Iowa by the 1880’s and almost eliminated entirely from the continental US. So I find these reintroduction efforts are exciting and worth celebrating. I unfortunately didn’t see the bird during my visit, but the habitat certainly seems appropriate… perhaps we’ll find them making a home here in the future?

1970s aerial view of Coffey Marsh & vicinity, from ISU-GIS site (http://ortho.gis.iastate.edu). Hayfield criss-crossed by roads leading to a mine site in upper left of photo

Anyway, Coffey Marsh is an ecological restoration success in itself. Along the floodplain of the Chariton River, the site was clearly “converted” to agriculture in the past: aerial photos from the 1930s through the 1970s show pasture and hay field, and much modification of the landscape. The 1980s and subsequent photos show wetland: river floodplain and backwaters of the Rathbun reservoir. The hydrology of course will depend on the operation of the adjacent Lake Rathbun by the Corps of Engineers.

red_wavesToday at Coffey Marsh, I see a mix of deepwater and shallow habitats, transitioning to dry areas, and a varying topography. Small islands and fluctuating water levels will create opportunities (ecological niches) for a variety of organisms, including our swan friends. If you happen to visit at just the right time, you could indeed see or hear the birds (their call is rather hard to miss). Be sure to comment about the sighting here, and celebrate bringing back something wild and beautiful to Iowa!

Author: Paul Weihe

Associate Professor of Biology at Central College, traditional author (Textbook of Limnology, Cole & Weihe, 5th ed.; Waveland Press), and now...blogger!

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