There were fears the seabird – named Clifford by his rescuers – had been contaminated with oil when he was discovered all alone on the beach near Bamburgh Castle.
He was taken to the RSPCA’s East Winch Wildlife Centre in Norfolk for a bit of rest and rehabiliation, and staff ensured his plumage was properly waterproofed so he could be returned safely to the wild.
After he was deemed fit and well again, John and Cora Kitchen, who are wildlife casualty volunteers and help rescue and release birds and small animals for the charity, drove Clifford from East Finch to the harbour at Seahouses – a journey of 266 miles –where they were met by RSPCA inspector Lucy Green, who had rescued the bird.
The trio then headed out to sea thanks to Serenity Boat Tours who arranged to take Clifford and his rescuers close to the puffin colony, four miles off the Northumberland coastline.
Lucy said: “All the puffins live and breed on the Farne Islands, so we wanted to get him as close to the colony as we could.
“John and Cora volunteered to bring him all the way from Norfolk and we got help from the boat tour operators. We were able to stop where we saw the highest concentration of puffins and soon Clifford was swimming around and diving for food.
“He was eyeing up some of the other puffins and seemed happy. I’ve done a fair few releases, but I’ve never released a puffin – one of the best parts of the job is releasing animals that you have rescued yourself.”
It was a first as well for John and Cora, who are part of the charity’s Norfolk and Cambridgeshire Group of wildlife casualty volunteers.
John said: “Cliff was much admired by the public at the quayside, but once he got out to sea and got a lungful of sea air I think the penny dropped that this was his big day.
“He just dived into the sea and enjoyed a swim. He had a bit of a dive and looked perfectly at home.”