When Lisa Moore searched outside her house in Jacksonville on Thursday for her 4-year-old daughter, she instead found a 2-year-old black bear.
"I looked for her, turned the corner… I see this bear on its hind legs and it was trying to eat bird seed from a bird feeder" hanging in the tree, Moore said. After about 10 seconds watching the bear in awe, she said, "it hit me, where is my daughter?"
Luckily, she was inside and, together, mother and daughter watched the bear hanging around a swing set, occasionally making his way to the bird feeder.
The bear, which officials say made its way down from the Sparks area, likely came from southern Pennsylvania or possibly Western Maryland, where there are black bear populations, officials said.
"It's an annual occurrence that we've been experiencing for many years," said Ken D'Loughy, regional manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources wildlife and heritage service.
He said the migration of young male bears is common in spring and early summer as they look for territory and search for food — which in Central Maryland can often be bird feeders, backyard grills and trash cans.
The state's breeding population of black bears remains in Allegany, Washington and Frederick counties, but residents are increasingly reporting springtime sightings in the Baltimore and Washington suburbs.
In the past 15 to 20 years, D'Loughy said, more bears have moved into heavily populated areas, including one that camped out around Bethesda, near the Capital Beltway. Last year, a young black bear was killed when it was hit by a car on the Baltimore Beltway near Lutherville.
Montgomery County homeowners reported sightings in June 2003, followed by more in Manchester in Carroll County.
In August 2008, a 100-pound bear was seen St. Mary's, Calvert and Anne Arundel counties and was later tranquilized and captured in Arbutus.
In Jacksonville, a woman was driving on Paper Mill Road recently when she saw one cross in front of her car, D'Loughy said.
On Thursday morning, Deborah Glinowiecki, principal of Jacksonville Elementary School, said a parent reported that a bear had been seen in the neighborhood around the school.
"We immediately alerted all teachers," she said. The school was about to hold its fifth-grade farewell assembly and 350 parents, grandparents and siblings of the fifth-graders were arriving at the time. "We are not letting children go outside" for the rest of the day, she said. She said the bear was only in the general vicinity and that it posed no danger to the children.
"It is not registered at the school so it is not supposed to be on the property," Glinowiecki joked.
Others have reported the bear roaming the area. Moore said her father had joked, "oh, they said they saw the bear coming out of the new Goodwill store. And he was wearing a suit and tie. It must be a boy."
D'Loughy's department is also keeping tabs on another two-year-old male that made his way through Howard County. Sightings began in Manchester, down to Mount Airy, and he was recently spotted outside Damascus and Little Bennett Regional Park in Clarksburg.
A Howard County woman called and reported seeing a bear "trotting across the yard" while she was reading, he said, but her dog scared it off.
Black bear attacks are rare. But, D'Loughy said, "If you see one, stay away from it and let it go about its business."
He said many callers have found the sightings to be "a pretty neat phenomenon," though some have called annoyed about destroyed bird feeders and trash strewn about the yard.
"I tell them basically to temporarily remove the attractant," take bird feeders down and clean the grill, D'Loughy said.
As far as the one in Jacksonville, D'Loughy said, "We're going to have to watch him. As long as he is able to move and stays out of trouble," he said officials will leave it alone.
"Our policy is not to go out. Basically what we want to do is give it space so it can move on," D'Loughy said. "Eventually they do move on."
Residents can report bear sightings by calling 301-258-0817.