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A stork, a fisherman and their unlikely connection fascinate turkeys

Thirteen years ago, a poor fisherman in a small Turkish village was retrieving his net from a lake when he heard a noise behind him and turned to find a majestic creature standing on the bow of his rowboat.

Gleaming white feathers cover its head, neck and chest, with black feathers on its wings. It stands on slender orange legs that almost match the color of its long, pointed beak.

Fisherman Adem Yilmaz recalled that he recognized it as a white stork that had been summering in the village for a long time, but he had never seen one so close, let alone He received a white stork on his boat.

He wanted to know if it was hungry, so he threw it a fish, which it ate. He lost another, and another.

And so began an unlikely story of man and bird that, over time, and a clever social media campaign by a local nature photographer, captivated Turkey, framing the couple’s story as a symbol of inter-species friendship. Modern fable spreads.

The fishermen said the stork, nicknamed “Yaren” in Turkey, which means “mate,” not only returned to Mr. Yilmaz’s boat several times in the first year, but also returned the following spring after migrating south for the winter. Back to the same village, the same village. Nest – and the same ship.

Last month, Yaren showed up in the village for the 13th consecutive year, and the local news media reported his arrival with the same glee as a Turk in the spring. Punxsutawney Phil.

The couple’s story has brought Mr. Yilmaz, 70, and Aaron, estimated to be 17, unexpected fame, though not a fortune.They co-starred in a children’s book and an award-winning Record.children’s adventure movie The film, which features a cameo by Mr. Yilmaz (and a digital rendering of a stork), is expected to be released in cinemas across Turkey this year.

Stork enthusiasts around the world can see Aaron and his mate Nazli, known in Turkey as “the coquettes,” preening their feathers, twisting their necks, clicking their beaks, refurbishing their nests and sometimes mating, This is thanks to 24 hours webcam Established by local government.

“This is not a story. This is a true story,” Ali Ozkan, the mayor of Karajabe, where the village is located, said in an interview. “This is a true story with the flavor of a story.”

He said the stork’s fame had bolstered the city’s efforts to increase local tourism, building walking trails and cafes near the area’s lakes and wetlands. The region developed a white stork “master plan” to care for the birds.

Initially, he said, he faced some criticism from constituents who wanted to know why the mayor would be associated with storks. But now residents call when they notice damage to a stork’s nest, and a friend in another city recently called to complain that he couldn’t see Aaron. On the webcam.

The story put Mr. Yilmaz’s village of Eskikaragak (population 235) on the map, attracting crowds of students and tourists who wandered its narrow streets to view the storks and nearby Boat trip on Lake Ulu Abat. Sitting on a platform atop a telephone pole near Mr. Yilmaz’s home, they acted starstruck when they met the fisherman himself, peppering him with questions and posing for photos.

On a recent morning, Mr. Yilmaz stood in the yard of his small two-story house, holding a bucket of fish he had caught. Aaron and Nazli dozed and groomed themselves in the nest overhead, the air filled with the tapping of their fish. beak.

“Aaron!” Mr. Yilmaz shouted.

Both birds slid down into the yard and Mr. Yilmaz put the fish into their mouths.

“They’re full,” Mr. Yilmaz announced after the birds had eaten about two dozen fish. “Thirteen years later, I know.”

Storks have long nested in the village, arriving in the spring to mate before migrating to Africa in late summer.

Village elders recall that there seemed to be a stork’s nest on every roof, and residents struggled to stop the birds from stealing clothes from outdoor clotheslines. But most people love these birds, whose arrival heralds spring after the pink flowers on the almond trees bloom.

Ridvan Cetin, the village’s elected authority, said a count in the 1980s found 41 active nests, or 82 storks, not including chicks.

This year, there are only four active nests left in the village, including Yaren’s nest.

“There are very few of them now,” Mr. Setin said sadly.

No one in the village remembers a similar connection between Mr. Yilmaz and Aaron.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Mr. Setin said.

For Mr. Yilmaz, a quiet man with leathery hands and a wrinkled face, Aaron was an accidental addition to what he had hoped would be a belated, peaceful break in a difficult life. Chapter.

He grew up poor, and his father asked him to drop out of school and go fishing in the fields, no matter how cold the weather was.

“My life is between fields and lakes,” he said.

His mother died when he was 13 years old. His father remarried when he was 17, to a woman whom Mr. Yilmaz disliked. So, with only a primary school education, he fled to Bursa, the nearest big city, and worked in a factory. Make yogurt and other dairy products.

At 19, he married another villager whom he had known since childhood. They lost their daughter just weeks after the birth of their first child. He worked at various dairy plants and he and his wife raised three other children, two boys and a girl.

In 2011, with his children grown and living elsewhere with his five grandchildren, he stopped working and returned to the village, moving back to his childhood fishing home on the lake.

“From the day I started working, it has been my dream to go fishing in my village,” he said.

Soon after, the stork landed on his boat.

Every time Aaron leaves, Mr. Yilmaz wonders if he will come back. But after a few years, he stopped worrying.

“I’m sure the bird will come back as long as I’m alive,” he said.

Early on, no one cared too much about Mr. Yilmaz making friends with a stork. Other villagers made fun of him, or said he was wasting his time and fish.

That changed in year five, when Alper Tuydes began sharing photos of the two on social media. Alper Tuydes was a hunter turned wildlife photographer for the local government. The story began to spread, and every spring with the arrival of Yaren, the story spread.

Turkish ornithologist Omer Donduren said the human-bird relationship is consistent with known stem behavior.

Although storks avoid direct contact with humans, they often roost near humans, on rooftops, chimneys or telephone poles.

These birds tend to be monogamous and loyal to the nest, separated from their partners but reproducing in the same nest in the spring.

That would explain why Aaron roosted near Mr. Yilmaz’s house year after year, Donduron said.

Storks, which can live for more than 20 years in the wild and more than 30 years in captivity, also have strong memories, allowing them to memorize migration routes from as far north as Poland and Germany to destinations thousands of miles south, as far south as Up to South Africa. It’s unclear where Aaron went after leaving the village, but one of his descendants had a tracker attached to him that followed the bird as it flew through Syria, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic until it stopped Work. .

He said that over time, Aaron’s experience with Mr. Yilmaz may have become part of his memory.

“Nature doesn’t have a lot of room for emotion,” Mr. Donduran said. “For the stork, it’s a simple matter of food. It thinks, here’s an easy food source. This guy looks safe. He doesn’t “do not hurt me. “

Mr. Yilmaz’s explanation is much simpler.

“This is loving animals,” he said. “They are God’s creatures.”

On a recent morning, Mr. Yilmaz paddled into the lake, pulled up his net and tossed small fish into the boat.

“Aaron!” he shouted.

The stork flew up, circled around to spy on the boat, and then settled on a lamppost on the shore.

“Aaron!” Mr. Yilmaz shouted again.

The bird took flight again and finally landed on the boat, where Mr. Yilmaz threw fish after fish at it.

After a while, the stalk rose into the air, gliding around the village and back to its nest.

“That’s it,” Mr. Yilmaz said with a satisfied smile. “He’s full.”

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