A Birder's Guide to Belize

Commerce Bight Forest Reserve / Croc O’dile Isle

Ecoregion and habitats: Appendix A, Ecoregion 9, Central coastal savannas, littoral forests, and Caribbean coast. Habitats include: lowland broadleaf forest bordering a creek (BFL2, BFL3), mangrove forest along a lagoon (LF3).

Description: When established in 1944, Commerce Bight Forest Reserve included 10,176 acres.  However, divisions, reallocations, conversions to agricultural uses and sell offs have greatly reduced the size and its current status is not clearly understood.  Hurricane Hattie in 1961 wiped out much of the forest and destroyed the Commerce Bight community which then relocated to Silk Grass Village.  Some of the original reserve is now part of Mayflower Bocawina National Park.  More recently, an approximately 100-acre portion of the forested land bordering on Freshwater Lagoon was sold privately to form Croc O’dile Isle, a commercial enterprise that derived income from its restaurant and camping facilities while retaining most of the property in its original condition.  Two trails through the littoral forest to the lagoon and along Freshwater Creek were created, though both likely will soon overgrow.  Apparently the sale of forest reserve was permitted on the condition that it would be preserved and the raising of crocodiles was to maintain a local population.  In 2008, Croc O’dile Isle closed, the property was abandoned, and its current status is in limbo.  Perhaps the property and surrounding area once part of the reserve are no longer accessible, but on the hope that its status will change for the better, it is still included here as a potential birding site.  The property would be an excellent acquisition for preservation, as it offers more accessible mangrove habitat than does Gra Gra Lagoon National Park where coastline is being sold off for housing and resort development.

Historically, Commerce Bight Forest Reserve was home to many bird species not easily accessible elsewhere along the coast.  Visits in 2007 and 2009 showed substantial and varied birdlife and the trails provided easy access to littoral forest habitat.  One quick morning survey produced 59 species on the Croc O’dile Isle property, including Scaled Pigeon, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Common Pauraque, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Northern Bentbill, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Stub-tailed Spadebill, Bright-rumped Attila, Thrush-like Schiffornis, Long-billed Gnatwren, Thick-billed Seed-Finch, and Yellow-tailed Oriole.  The road accessing Croc O’dile Isle passes through scrublands where Black-throated Bobwhite is common and White-tailed Kite can be found.  Near the entrance, Yellow-bellied Elaenias are particularly vociferous.  Along the trail following Freshwater Creek, a plethora of bird songs emanate from the forest.  A hard species to find in Belize, unless you are aware of its restrictive range, Sedge Wrens were beside the trail in an overgrown grass and brush opening not far from the lagoon.  A second trail leads through more forested areas, but farther from the creek.  Near the lagoon the mangrove forest is densest and the trail becomes a tunnel through the brambles.  West Indian Manatees are frequently seen.  Freshwater Creek, which is still public property, can be traversed by canoe or kayak.  Beyond the Croc O’dile Isle tract the road soon breaks up and can be traveled only on foot, the surrounding vacant land being the remnants of the destroyed village and abandoned attempts at agriculture.  Mangroves beyond that point are not accessible.

Contact: For more information about the reserve and local area, and also for guide service, contact Corwin and Rosita Cornelius at any of the following phone numbers: (011) 501-667-5091 or 503-7370 or 503-7243. Both formerly worked at Croc O’dile Isle and live in nearby Silk Grass Village.

Location: N 16 52.25' W 88 18.68' at former parking lot. On Southern Highway the water tower at Silk Grass Village (N 16 53.20' W 88 20.34') is 7.6 miles south of Hummingbird Highway. From here a village road heads east and continues through vacant land toward the sea, although now disrupted by water breaks. The defunct Croc O’dile Isle is 2.2 miles from the Southern Highway intersection.

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  Website created by Bert Frenz.  Last updated January 18, 2012.