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Common Stonechat (possible salax sub-species?)

28 October, 2010

A couple of days ago an ‘odd’ African (Common) Stonechat caught my attention in Ruhengeri in NW Rwanda. There was absolutely no brown on the chest but in fact a pitch black patch thus resulting in a bird completely white & black only, not even a hint of brown. The usual white neck patch was also more of a collar which went almost all the way around the head. I’ve never come across this in Rwanda before. Jason says he’s recently seen a bird with a touch of brown only similar to the bird in my photos in Kibungo in SE Rwanda.

Common Stonechat

Common Stonechat photographed on 26 Oct 2010 in Ruhengeri, NW Rwanda

Common Stonechat

Common Stonechat photographed in Ruhengeri, NW Rwanda on 26 Oct 2010

Based on all the notes below and comparisons from field guides and online photos and taxonomy, could this be an individual of the salax sub-species on some movement?

This is the plumage I usually see in Ruhengeri, this photo was taken March 2010 at exactly the same location as the black-chested bird;

Common Stonechat

Common Stonechat photographed in Ruhengeri, NW Rwanda in March 2010

On Google Image search, not a single photo of a black chested bird for Saxicola torquata.

On a search for “Saxicola torquata albofasciatus” there are 4 photos from Ethiopia, this is one of them and as you’ll see, not like ‘my’ bird at all.

On ABID (African Bird Club Image Database), other than the albofasciatus in Ethiopia, a photo taken in Gabon of what the photographer calls the salax subspecies which has black on the chest


Stevenson & Fanshawe: Races and individuals highly variable. Black head and throat, chestnut or black on the breast (varies in size). Distinctive race albofasciatus occurs in extreme NE Uganda. (the latter is illustrated with a black chest.

Sinclair & Ryan: “A highly variable small chat.” “…black head, chestnut chest (extent varies geographically)…”. They then continue to mention S. rubicola the Palearctic migrant which may be a good species (browner above and brown fringes to back and mantle feathers). Then “Black-breasted albofasciatus (Ethiopia) may also be a good species.”

As for movement, they refer to “some local movement”. I seem to recall in South Africa the moves were altitudinal.

Zimmerman et al: in fact these guys don’t even refer to a black-breasted race and just describe the axillaris race. Once again reference to a chestnut breast patch. No mention of any movement.

Britton (1980): “Kidepo Valley NP are probably referable to to the race albofasciatus which Hall & Moreau (1970) regard as an incipient species.” Kidepo is NE Uganda. Then he goes to describe a few races; (Britton doesn’t refer to any plumage, only distribution)

stonei – mainly south west Tanzania

promiscua – the east and close to the western side where ‘stonei’ is

axillaris – the widespread race including to south and western Uganda


ibc.lynx editions (online): according to this, axillaris should be the race in Rwanda

Taxonomy: Motacilla () torquata Linnaeus,1766. Cape of Good Hope, South Africa.

Has been considered conspecific with S. dacotiae, but morphological differences sufficient to warrant treatment as two separate species; has also been treated as conspecific with S. tectes and S. leucurus. Recently proposed that races form three distinct species, European S. rubicola (including race hibernans), Siberian S. maurus (including variegatusarmenicus,indicusprzewalskii and stejnegeri) and African S. torquatus (remaining races); extent to which these groups satisfy any criteria for species recognition, however, is unclear, and variation within groups is considerable. Alternatively, further splitting could be argued for, e.g. in the case of rather distinct and apparently parapatrically abutting forms indicus andprzewalskii. Variation also exists within races, and several taxa may be unworthy of recognition while others may deserve reinstatement. Birds on Sicily included in rubicola, but most closely resemble maurus (hence a challenge to the splitting of latter), and have been named archimedes. Races adamauae (N & W Cameroon) and pallidigula (Cameroon Mountain and Bioko I) are treated as synonyms of salax, and altivagus is included in promiscuus. Racial affiliation of population recently found breeding in NW Thailand unknown. Twenty-four subspecies recognised.

  • hibernans (Hartert, 1910) – Ireland, Britain, W France and W Iberian coast.
  • rubicola (Linnaeus, 1766) – W, C & S Europe, NW Africa, and Turkey E to W Caucasus area; non-breeding also N Africa E to Middle East.
  • variegatus (S. G. Gmelin, 1774) – E Caucasus area E to lower R Ural and S to NW Iran; non-breeding NE Africa.
  • armenicus Stegmann, 1935 – SE Turkey, Transcaucasia and SW Iran; non-breeding also SW Asia and NE Africa.
  • maurus (Pallas, 1773) – E Finland and N & E European Russia E to Mongolia, E Tien Shan and Pakistan; non-breeding SW & S Asia.
  • stejnegeri (Parrot, 1908) – E Siberia E to Anadyrland, S to E Mongolia, NE China, Korea and Japan; non-breeding E & SE Asia (S to Malay Peninsula).
  • indicus (Blyth, 1847) – NW & C Himalayas; non-breeding Pakistan and C India.
  • przewalskii (Pleske, 1889) – Tibetan Plateau E to C China, S to NE Myanmar and Indochina; non-breeding N & NE India E to SE China and SE Asia.
  • moptanus Bates, 1932 – Senegal Delta and S Mali (inner Niger Delta).
  • nebularum Bates, 1930 – Sierra Leone E to W Ivory Coast.
  • jebelmarrae Lynes, 1920 – E Chad and W Sudan (Darfur).
  • salax (J. Verreaux & E. Verreaux, 1851) – E Nigeria S to NW Angola, including Bioko I (Fernando Póo).
  • felix Bates, 1936 – SW Saudi Arabia and W Yemen.
  • albofasciatus Rüppell, 1845 – SE Sudan, Ethiopian Highlands and NE Uganda.
  • axillaris (Shelley, 1885) – E DRCongo E to Kenya and N & W Tanzania.
  • stonei Bowen, 1932 – SW Tanzania S to S & E Angola, NE Namibia, Botswana and N South Africa.
  • promiscuus Hartert, 1922 – S Tanzania S to E Zimbabwe and W Mozambique.
  • torquatus (Linnaeus, 1766) – South Africa (Northern Province S to SW Western Cape) and W Swaziland.
  • oreobates Clancey, 1956 – Lesotho Highlands.
  • clanceyi Latimer, 1961 – coastal Western Cape.
  • voeltzkowi Grote, 1926 – Grand Comoro (Njazidja), in Comoro Is.
  • sibilla (Linnaeus, 1766) – Madagascar (except N massif and C area).
  • tsaratananae Milon, 1951 – Tsaratanana Massif, in N Madagascar.
  • ankaratrae Salomonsen, 1934 – Ankaratra Massif and adjacent C part of W savannas, in C Madagascar



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