One of the joys of beekeeping is seeing bees doing their orientation flights as they first venture out of the hive. As you may know, bees spend their first few weeks inside the hive acting as house bees (feeding and cleaning), making wax and guarding the hive.
As they get older they will venture out of the hive. They will walk out and then turn and take off flying in a zig-zag fashion in front of the hive, looking towards it. Their zig-zags and flying getting larger and larger in size and they will circle about the hive. What they are doing is getting a mental picture of their hive and the location it is in. Orientation flights usually happen on a bright day towards the middle of the day or when the sun comes out and it can be quite alarming in late Spring when so many bees take to the air. It often lasts for 1/2 an hour or so; then the colony returns to 'normal'. To the unwary it can almost seem like the bees are going to swarm. Once they know the hive location the workers can then go off to gather nectar, pollen, propolis and water until they die.