Fairfax County artist Samuel Bookatz was relieved yesterday morning to find that he actually had seen a black bear browsing in the sculpture garden in front of his Leesburg Pike home.

"It looked like a black bear, it sure ran like a black bear," he said.

He called the police, and an animal warden called him back.

"The warden believed me," said Bookatz, a little surprised. "He said, 'Oh you've seen a bear all right. You weren't imagining it.' "

Two visitors to Bookatz's home, two miles east of Reston, also saw the bear, which was described by Bookatz as "huge, at least three feet high."

"If someone had told me, I wouldn't have believed it," Bookatz said. "We've seen deer and foxes, but . . . . "

The bear caused a small stir at Fairfax County Animal Control this morning, where Director Richard Amity said they had received three calls to report sightings.

"This is the first sighting this year I know of," Amity said.

He surmised that the bear hiked in to Great Falls from the Blue Ridge Mountains, 30 miles west, looking, like many who come East, for food.

"They are looking for companionship and good forage," Amity said. "If they have an overpopulation in the Blue Ridge , they fan out." He said county officials get between five and 10 reports of sightings each summer.

Bookatz was a little nervous about having a bear loose on his seven acres of wooded property. "It's rather frightening," he said.

Amity said, however, that "they are extremely shy. We don't want people to get upset. They are not dangerous. They'll run from the smallest dog."

And Amity said the bear was very unlikely to set up permanent camp near Tysons Corner, about four miles away.

"They won't stay there, that's not a natural bear habitat," he said. "We don't have any permanent bear population in this county. They are all just transitory visitors."