Chris Gleason walked outside early Tuesday to spend some time on his deck before heading to work, but he said he stopped dead in his tracks at the sight of an unexpected visitor: a black bear mere feet away.
"As soon as I processed what it was, I was gone," said the 51-year-old Columbia resident, who lives in a subdivision just east of U.S. 29. "He was just standing there, not really doing anything. I knew it was time to get back into the house as soon as I could."
Gleason ran to get a camera, but the bear was gone when he got back, he said.
It was one of several bear sightings reported in Howard County in recent weeks. Maryland Department of Natural Resources officials said they received four calls from people who saw small bears in the first week of June: two in Columbia, including one sighting near U.S. 29, and two in Ellicott City neighborhoods.
Ken D'Loughy, a regional manager for the department's wildlife and heritage service, said the culprit in those instances is likely the same bear.
"It's the time for seasonal bear movements," D'Loughy said. "It's probably some young male bear passing through as he looks to make a home for himself."
During the months of May, June and July, it's common for young bears to be pushed out of the nests by their mothers to seek out their own territories, D'Loughy said. While females don't stray far, males tend to travel great lengths — sometimes more than 80 miles from their homes — looking for a suitable resting place.
D'Loughy said bears likely only wander into residential areas if they smell food such as from bird feeders, grills or unsecured trash cans. Bears are not usually aggressive, but he urged residents who see a bear to simply keep their distance until the animals move on.
So far this season, the only calls D'Loughy has received about sightings in the region have come from Howard County, he said.
"But there'll probably be more," he said. "We get calls up until about August."
Howard County police had heard of only one recent bear sighting — near U.S. 29 in Columbia last Friday. Spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said officers were sent to investigate that call, but did not see a bear in the area.
Although D'Loughy did not have a description in the Howard County sightings, he said bears spotted this time of year are typically 2 years old and on the small side, between 80 and 100 pounds.
Gleason said his morning visitor was bigger — he estimated about 250 pounds — but D'Loughy said that would be atypical.
"Unless it's something completely out of the ordinary, they're usually much smaller," he said.