Documenting Regional Raptors
Ray Wright joined the family real estate business in 1962, developing an eye for exquisite structures and talented staff. But his keen powers of perception found their fullest expression when he picked up his first camera. “I became the firm’s staff photographer. I found that a wide-angle lens was the perfect tool to capture the architectural details of the properties we were listing,” Ray said.
In 2010, Ray was one of a group of photographers who documented the return of the bald eagle to New York State. “New York State lost its eagle population by the year 2000. DDT was the cause. Eagle eggs could not mature and broke before the babies were ready to come out. DDT was banned in New York and starting in 2000, babies were purchased from Alaska. By 2010, New York’s eagle population had recovered.”
For the last nine winters, Ray has made the rounds throughout the lower Hudson Valley, capturing nature’s most impressive winged creatures. “I could go from Haverstraw to Jones Point and photograph 10 to 20 eagles each day from January 1 to March 5.” His lens has captured eagles in pairs, perched on branches improbably thin to hold their weight: “They mate for life,” he romantically observes.
In 2017, Ray submitted a photo to the Clarkstown supervisor of Orange & Rockland construction crews working within feet of an eagle’s nest. Eagles are federally protected and the utility faced fines for the encroachment.
In 2019, Ray testified at Clarkstown town hall to oppose a proposal by the Suez Water Company to build a new headquarters near Lake DeForest. Ray testified: “I photograph eagles because I am drawn to their majesty and grace. But I am aware that as a nature photographer, I also have a civic role to play. My photos help document the habitat that eagles, and all of us, depend on for our survival. The photos I take have to speak for the eagles, who do not have a vote in our elections or a say at our public hearings. We lost our eagles once before to DDT. Let’s not lose them again to over-development.”
“This year, because of the end-to-end balmy winter weather, no eagles.” Ray laments. He manages to find a few year-round nesting eagles, but not the dozens of the apex predators who own the sky above their hunting grounds. Ray now worries that “global warming might keep our eagles away next year.” Regardless of whether the eagle population soars or plummets, their champion will document their plight, summoning the public to be the cavalry in their defense.
Ray joined Wright Bros. Realty in 1962, a firm founded by his father and uncle in 1929. In addition to expanding the company’s stake in the real estate and insurance business, Ray became the official photographer. In 1980, along with Nyack High School music teacher Burt Hughes, Ray founded the Jazz in the Garden series at the Hopper House Museum and Study Center. After selling Wright Bros. in 2000, Ray has dedicated himself full-time to wildlife and jazz photography, and wooden boat building.
Bill Batson is an artist, writer and activist. He has worked for non profits, labor unions and government in New York State as an organizer, writer and public relations specialist.